Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lunch was called and the group of us seated in chairs, some of us, or parts of us, mesmerized by the flat screen televisions suspended above, each to serve the rows, with CNN political coverage playing Donald Trump, rose and filed out of the juror's lounge out into the wide hallway with courtrooms on either side, where earlier I'd watched a red-faced DC Policeman with full gear and a bicycle helmet sitting with an attorney, then later, looking around all by himself, his legs splayed out before him.  "You walking funny!  Been sittin' too long," one woman of a group of three said, chuckles around.  "Yep, you gotta move from one side to the other after awhile," another woman, with buttocks of a large frame, replied and they all got it and laughed healthily, and allowed others to chuckle too at the common fate of such a day, alleviating the torments of the lone individual.

It was cold out, and I was tired and didn't feel like leaving the building, so I went down on the atrium escalators to the basement cafe and had a modest lunch of curried chicken salad and a bottled water.   Attorneys sat around round tables in the cafe talking about a mix of things eating sandwiches, used to the place.  I went back up to the lounge, passing the bust of H. Carl Moultrie, after whom the courthouse building is named, and the wall of judge's names, the scene taken as a whole having a Fellini touch, the security line of the entrance, the mix of people... and sat in the chair and did not feel like reading from the books I'd brought along.  Then the lady came back and said "good afternoon," and then when we sleepily murmured, repeated herself, "GOOD AFTERNOON," to which we all chuckled and responded, some waving raised hands, as if in church, and then we were dismissed, we were happy and filed out again.

I got back on the metro, walked back from the station, changed, and rode my mountain bike out into the pouring rain to get to work because we had to get there early to set up for a private party, a law firm coming in for drinks then dinner downstairs.  I'd gotten soaked, changed out of my lined Dickies, put on a dry pair of underwear and socks from my courier bag in the bathroom, called my mom.

We set up for the law firm early arrival, with Sancerre and the Solitude 2013 Cotes du Rhone, and first it was one lone gentleman who had a glass of the white and then sat down, contentedly.  Then the group of them arrived, and a tall loud man stepped behind the bar to look up at the bottled beer offerings, and members of his firm said, "Stuart, who said you could go behind the bar," knowing him well enough, and he replied that he had asked.   Then latter he sat down, the tables all set for jazz night, and wondered aloud above the crowd if "we" could order appetizers, stressing the third syllable as a New Yorker might, and then later word passed through that he had just argued in front of the highest court of the land.  Soon they all went downstairs to dine.

We got through most of jazz night, just about to kitchen closing at ten when the regular guy comes in to set up camp.  A party of three, squeezing themselves in at the bar, and another, I'm told, will be coming.  Then there's also the nervous young man making a special cake, coming up and asking me how late I'd be, and I called the chef and told him not to worry, which would save him some trouble.  Chef is of Catholic belief, stands behind his people...  He didn't want to put extra burden on me.    He thanks me, his voice dry from a long day.  "Any time, Chef," I tell him.

So they have their first round, a Jameson on the rocks, two glasses of red wine, their one order of escargot arrives, the young help is eating in the corner where all the napkins and the silverware set-ups are blocking the cutting board and the oven door where the bread is kept hot, so I have to ask, because I'm taking care of several of the last tables as he eats and haven't had a chance, the busboy to set them up and I can feel I'm getting grumpy.  Some minutes later they ask what else there is to eat.  I told you, the kitchen closed at ten.  Oh. Can we get a cheese plate?  How about another order of escargot.  I run a finger across my neck just under my chin.  Done.

Later I'm stooping to restock the beer we've gone through, having to reach awkwardly, and the regular guy is talking to me and I'm pretending not to hear him.   When I stand later, he says, you look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders...  He tells me, look, I'm your friend, share, and my father has stage four cancer, so let's talk about it.  I had jury duty today.

I get home pretty late, watch some Frontline, some Fat Guys in the Woods from an island in Northern Michigan, make toasted ezekial muffin simple pizza with a spread of tomato paste and sliced mozzarella on top to soak up a glass of table wine as I unwind.  I get that roof of your mouth swollen gum slightly burned puffiness, a piece of bio-feedback from the body one should pay attention to.  And earlier I had the veal cheeks, and ended up eating the orchiette pasta shells gooey with cream and basil and truffle oil to mop up the osso bucco sauce as I let them hang out, talking up adventurous things I'd rather not think about.  I didn't want to eat the pasta, now that it was my turn to stand in the hidden corner by the stove, for the effect it will have on my gut, but I did.   "Put on some Stevie Wonder," the guy suggests.  Sure, fine.  If it keeps everyone calm, fine...  And somewhere, with the take on pleasure as something to be consumed, there is some hint, a faint echo, of the hyperbole of the rich man and the likelihood of the camel passing through the eye of the needle, because he's too fascinated with the material pleasures his wealth brings.

And after hearing so much and having so much of their clever intellectual-soundings kind of talk, ah-hah, I propose to them that our friend himself is proof enough of Einstein, like the sound the two black holes made, proof of the bending of waves of time, space, light, gravity, morals, as we've all fallen into one of his pockets, making clocks out of whack at this late hour, the barman, trying to pull out of this gravitational field full of words constant and rapid as if no one is quite listening to the other, tiredly putting things away, closing checks, in hopes of running the night's report so then to count the money, and fill out the night's financial sheet.  I've privately exaggerated him as "Satan," as in, "Get thee behind me," but perhaps his phenomena are better studied and understood through science.

The night before was kinder somewhat, though I did it all by myself.  At the end of it, the new server, a young lady who plays tennis, came up as I worked not as enthusiastically as I might have wanted to  my plate of veal kidneys with mustard sauce.  I fed her a taste and as a reward we had a glass of pinot noir together.   "Now this is the famous Ted," she explained, how she liked my lectures of wine and where it comes from, from when she came in as the young guy server's friend.   Her aunt lives in France, and she remembered being turned on to wine when she visited there when she was thirteen.  "This is the famous Ted, who all the customers ask for..."  And it's nice to hear, how I seem to impart my knowledge, my passion, how people seem to appreciate it and give me credit for it.  The watery fruit of the vine, the terroir, the ins and outs, the hidden gems, the simple pleasures, the slow putting together of a body of knowledge from the mouths of many.  Wine comes from sunlight, earth, water, the work of human beings that makes them content.  The beverage that makes our toils worth it, that gives us energy to feed ourselves, that gives us the calm to explore our minds, that soothes us enough to endure our own psyches, our histories, our troubles, our problems, the times when we are feeling bad and do not know what to do.

The day off comes, lots to think about.  The dream of an encounter with a bear, quietly playing possum as it comes down out of the forest into the neighborhood and lingers up upon you, enveloping you in close-up hot furry darkness as you strive to breath calmly, as if pretending you're asleep, focussing on the flow through your chakras, and finally the bear departing, no harm coming.

I look up, remembering my thoughts in the night, a certain Father Girzone, a priest who wrote a few interesting books, distributing them out of the back of his old Le Baron, finding fiction the way back to knowing a Jesus obscured by that long ago birth era of the different churches and the settings of their catechisms....  I came across his obit in The (NY) Times, on line...  In a simple manner, he wrote his books, so people of all ages could read them, as he lived his life simply too.  On the one side, the professional literary world, the critique of his style, almost childish, and on the other, from the church, that of is taking much poetic license with the central figure of a codified church.

So Doctor, what path do you take?  Do you go get the MFA writing workshop thing, or do you undertake some theological study, so that whatever you do end up writing has something of value...  This Father Girzone writes a book about Joshua, a stand-in, to bring Jesus out of the Gospels, to get to the point that the church itself gets in the way of, to better know him.  And he wrote simply, and sold a fair amount of books...  I don't know...  Get the credential, academic, or... write about normal people and their own spiritual issues, wants, desires...  Not all of us are cut out to be sophisticated, even as we might want to be scholarly somehow.

But of the work you'd want to do, it's the form of creativity, the essence, and that shouldn't be constrained, like, you can only write a short story...  Real people, real issues, how to put your talents to use, while remaining humble and true...  If that's not all beside the point.

Take the beam out of thine own eye...  Tolerance.  Love for others.  That was the kind of guy Father Girzone was, the sort of thing he put into his writing, 'take the weeds out of your own backyard,' to quote someone who knew him by way of explanation.  Non-judgmental guy.

Yes, what happens to those who are not called to the specifics, to be the lawyer, the doctor, the businessman, real estate...    What of those of us who seemed called to some form of action, something in a realm of, say, the Christian thing, a mortal form of the guy who went among publicans and sinners drinking wine and eating, in essence humble, loving them all as he could?  Who sort of knows what it might feel like to wake up feeling crusted like a leper by one's sins...  Maybe that helped Jesus cure, knowing what an inhabiting bad spirit was really like...  Empathetic kind of a guy...  There's action, the action necessary to inhabit that kind of a life, and to gain real life experience...  That kind of a writer, who is kind of like, some form of a reporter...  Give that guy some credit, even if he's not big at writing anything that sells, not the kind they throw money at.  And yet, Father Girzone had a pretty good cottage industry, selling a lot of copies...

Ah, but lighten up.  One can soon get fatigued over such attempts, such subjects...  Get back to realities of daily life.  It's hard enough a job anyway, and it doesn't pay much.  Gives you a social life, what more could you ask for?

Wine is important, a balm, part of Christian healing.  No shame in receiving its gift.  Not all of us can afford to go out to bars, much as we'd like.  And there is stress, which cannot be avoided.

But if it's true, that Thou Art That Which Is, and Jesus is Jesus, an explanation, very much an essence of That Which Is, what does that make you then?  That's the only way I can think of my little sketches, writings on life, on keeping a bar, on the things we go through, as fitting into some kind of coherent narrative.  If we get some understanding of the nature of reality, then we understand what he's saying.   At least that's a calling, to try to understand.  Not that we can ever fully do.  What does that even mean for us?  It sounds pretty crazy.  I guess it's taken a long time for us to absorb him.  To treat him as a thinker...   Various aspects of the story still freak us out.  To transfer him onto our little fields of experience is still a crazy blasphemous shocking thing to do.

But maybe we can catch little glimmers of his thinking as we go about our day to day.  What does one see, down at the courthouse, or there trying to deal with a late crowd at the bar, or in the process of going home alone...   If I could put all such thoughts together into a more coherent form...  The Jesuit says we find God in all things, in our wants and desires, following through with them, learning a lesson...

And if that represents some form of a calling, one you've sort of always had, but get distracted from, then maybe that explains how of late I've kinda finally gotten over the subject of the previous book, The Princess...  Though it's still a bit tentative, and replaced by other problems I should have addressed long ago...  That's at least an indication that I'm on the right sort of a track, even if it was a lot of fumbling around...  I guess Jesus really is a source of comfort. The Buddha too.   Letting go, it's still a funny feeling.  Like turning a corner, walking into the light, not on the dark side of the building anymore.  Small, subtle, but still, a difference, where things can happen...   And both Jesus and the Buddha want that, for you to let go.

Or maybe it's just that through some more mature insight you line up what you might have thought was one calling, that of marriage sort of stuff, and seeing it now as a deeper one, of the larger transformation you were working on...  Redefinition.  Seeing the priestly quality of marriage.

I cannot seem to be able to afford this town, given what I do.  Therefore the job too is a problem, a stumbling block.  And I do not know what to do, but recast it, understand it differently.  To change it, and other aspects of my life as well.  I wasn't trying to be stupid...  Is that what the story of Jonah is about?  He has to change the nature of his mission....

But if you put work into something, work at it enough, then it kind of takes a shape, starts to add up to something, for all the pains you put in, for dutifully showing up.  And then I guess you just got to collect it.  Put it all together.  Edit it a bit.  Keep trying to bang it together into some form of shape...

Just get over your nerves.  That's the thing about making something original.  It can be nerve-wracking.

That much of it happens in a barroom, or, sort of one, but a bit atypical, that keeps an element of humor about it, a sly wink, to not take ourselves too seriously.  The continual inclusion of human foible, of that Peter element, as Sancho has a sort of ring to it.  And in a barroom, again, there is the element of the tavern where they meet in Don Quixote, and the element of the road as well, a constant river of people coming in, changing, unpredictable.  And in life there is stress too.  A mix of things.

The book I wrote... I know it's an odd duck (though not, in the history of literature, where anything goes) but is it any good?  Is there not something to be said for it?  It was the book, such as one person wanted to write it.  Yes, there were, are, excesses, in it.  But it's not the worst thing, is it?  I mean, I know, it's not the height of imagination, because it's based on real events, I suppose, of course, but...

"So it depends on the quality of the book I wrote.  If it's good than I'm not crazy.   If it's not any good, I've wasted a lot of time;  therefore I am crazy.

"How are the two related," Doctor said, implying no correlation in her look at me.

I put my hand up on the wall, as if to a logic diagram on the blackboard.  If this, then that.  It seemed logical enough to me.

"So the book could be good, but I could still be crazy, you mean," I said, to add a little humor.

"But what's the connection.  Why are we tying in 'crazy?'"

"Uhm, well...   I go to my job, I try to keep writing on my day off, maybe not with any particular direction, I know I should make more effort as far as literary agents, but it's nice to hear when someone thinks it's good, that they read it."

"But that sounds like a self-image problems, feelings of inadequacy, or insecurity...  Do I look okay in this dress, do I look fat, she keeps asking..."

I guess I hadn't thought of that.  Where to trace that back to?   Did one write out of the initial feelings of insecurity, or is life complicated.  Can I see myself having those issues?

"Well, I don't know how I did it, but I followed the process along, and who knows how books write themselves, but they do somehow.  I did that part of it."

"But there seems to be a roadblock.  To be recognized as a writer you have to put yourself out there.  You have to face criticism.   You have to face a lot of issues.  If you're going to make a living at it..."

Jazz Night was a long shift after that session.  At the end of it, to pay for my dinner, I couldn't find my wallet, though I could have sworn handling it at work, when I changed into work slacks.

At the end of the week, I wake up at the bartender's waking hour past noon.  Will people think of me that I've done nothing but play, nothing but have fun, drink wine, not do anything serious, indeed not even really work, so that the whole thing will catch up with me one day.   Or, as it felt, by all the effort, I have been working, working at something.  Maybe I'm just as serious as anyone else, at least when I sit down to write, which isn't always clear nor easy.  Do feelings of inadequacy make it hard to get up out of bed, when the state of the body offers more rest?

Are said feelings of inadequacy the thing that keeps me going back to the bar to work, to listen and not speak, to deliver a message only in a most timid quiet unnoticed way?    The Teacher...  in sort of a sad state of affairs.

Who knows why we are who we are, the way we are...

Well, you write a book.  And it's hard to get it published, so, to present it, to feel finished with it, you self-publish.  You shared some earlier writings that became part of it with a professor of yours, but his reaction is that it's best left as it is, a private memoir, and that it would anyway be unlikely the prospects of getting it published. 

Friends of yours read it.  Family reads it.  (And you feel increasingly bad for dragging them into it.)   And there are positive reactions, but they are of few words, hard to read.   "Solid effort," a smart guy named Oak who's now a successful financial consultant, went to Vassar, so he gets it, tells you when he returns having read it.

But it's your account, roman a clef, like Kerouac, and its hard to tell how people really feel about it.

Well, the work week comes to a quiet end.  I sit down on the little stoop of the wine room as it looks out into the bar to reflect, to change out my work uniform, shoes, pants.  The heat is on, and the heated air from the vent below rises an animal smell from the piped roots of buildings in cities, and in it just a moment too long and too observant, I get down quick enough to the front door and the silent brick sidewalk for some cold fresh air.   I do a few push-ups, refreshed, and go back in for the last few things, bringing up the mountain bike from the back of the basement, helmet, coat, gear up, sling the courier bag over my shoulder.

The bike ride home.  A glass of wine, limited, and no taste for anything on TV, a song on YouTube, I tune a guitar, put it back in the case, and then, without dallying, to bed.  I don't always sleep well after my shifts.  I'm jittery awake at early light, yet I'm unable to get up.  There are words, but I don't feel up for writing them down yet, and the writer says, I'll remember them, being lazy.

I sit awake now, laptop before me, with the reflection of grey sky and tree branches at the edges of the bright screen, as I sit low on the couch.  It feels good to write.   Like things pent up could be released.  And if you bring them out, in each little piece, the thoughts that go through the mind, it feels like an accomplishment, and something that you will find tangible later on.

But yeah, I don't make any money at this.  Mid-life worries.  Sad feelings sometimes.   I want to do my work, but what is my work?  Is it here before me, somehow?   It takes time.  It is work.  Chipping away, at the block of marble, bit by bit.

The shame of writing, as it feels in the act, is that the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity with the self made manifest?  The acknowledgment of the feeling you're not doing the work you should be doing somehow...  Ah, you're just feeling tired from the week, groping for words, words lost in the rush for things and getting to work and other concerns.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Loose threads of the day:

I reflect on my college friends, the work they started back then.  One worked for the newspaper, became an important editor at a famous magazine.  One started, and became, an actor.  One met a girl and became a family man.

And I too started my work.  I just didn't know it.

The first book I wrote was an effort at the mainstream, to write somewhat like Hemingway, a set of vignettes, tied together.  But even then it was a different creature.  Each chapter represented some attempt at a spiritual awakening, a lesson, a kind of utterance from a deeper world of reality than the immediately present one.

Then what comes after that, after the self-publishing...

Then you start to write in a way that's truer to who you are and what you have to say.  A Dostoevsky listening to his inner Dostoevsky...  Disconcerting perhaps...

And oddly the new style adds up.  What was it, a series of experts from A Barman's Notes on The Gospels, or, Spiritual Utterances, in General, caught by the microphone of a man who had to do a good amount of listening on his job.

Was it the writing of MFA programs?  Was it an awkward form of some kind of scholarly attempt?

I thought of the opening of Don Quixote, depicting the man who's read too much of chivalry, so much that  it's softened his mind, leaving him with the great conceit, that he is formed by what he reads into being who he truly is.  What can he do but write in that space of time he has between rising and rousing himself--as heart rate, dreams and other things allow--and then going off to work?

He makes his tea by listening to the water until it sounds like wind in pines.  He cooks sausages by listening to them as well, in the iron skillet, first over the burner, then under the broiler, and finishing in the oven.  What's the weather like?  Jury duty tomorrow.

But between waking and then finally rousing himself, he reads these little pieces, and to him they seem to add up to something, excerpts from a particular sort of work, adding up like sediment in water, but then, who knows, maybe rock one day.

Connecting, the clinical psychologist talks about.   Connect with others, with your values, put that into some form of activity...  But there is, it seems, the main connection to make, the real work, of connecting with your self, maybe your inner self, the shy secretive creature...  Francis getting in touch with himself allows the Franciscan Order to come about.  Connect to a self in such a way that what use to be seen as mistakes and errors are not so much plainly such things anymore, but growth pains of a sort.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You cannot write about something unless you are shy toward it, shy about it.  Then, in the moment and in the act of shyness, you can write about central things.  It is the same with people.  If you are not shy toward them, you do not appreciate their beauty, their goodness, the helpfulness that comes out of their own shyness.

The things you are able to write through shyness, unexpected, humbly put forth, are the better things, the things that cohere, having a shape of their own.  That's how writing is, it's always difficult, trying to grasp at something and then maybe something else comes along, reinforcing what you were after.  God's responding help, if you will.  And the humility that allows one to continue.  And a freedom from the timidity that can fall over the attempt of good acts, artistic and otherwise.

Shyness is not an easy act to pull of, not something we are encouraged to use as a mode of action.   Not in the prevailing winds of popular culture, loudness, snooze you lose.  A lot of trouble to go through--why?  But it is an integral part of writing, the essence of its mode.  And I would hope an important element of real friendships, maybe even where Jesus found strength in his disciples, as, before him, they had reason to be shy.    No need of my reminding anyone of the shyness of writers, Hemingway, Dostoevsky...

That is how I found what I wished to write about, how, in what terms.  And so when I looked back at what I'd written I found a lot of unexpected things.  Pay-off, for the difficulties of having to tend bar and having to live that particular life, as opposed to that of the scholar I might have preferred to be.  A lot to go through.  But then again, less officious...

I wished to write about spiritual things, the spirituality inherent in writing.  And one could only approach them with that sense of "but who am I..."   But you bite off as much as you can, piece by piece.  Worry not about it coming out sounding mawkish, naive, by someone very young and hopeful.

With patience, whatever modest surprises I could feel, reading, that I had in some sense come up with, came as they did.

You would have been a good scholar, my therapist said.  You like to read up on all the things that interest you.  Could writing be a way of being scholarly?

Hmm, that's a thought, I said.

Blood type, yoga, Buddhism, you could write about things, and spare yourself the costs of grad school...   Do you see yourself teaching, or writing?

I felt better leaving her office than when I'd gone there.  Encouraged to maybe submit a piece somewhere, I went back and read a few pieces, before taking an hour nap before getting ready for work.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

And after two days off, some perspective.  The body rests, cleaning itself out from the lively battles, returning to relative peace.

And then, yes, it's all about the compassion.  The things that brought us sorrow and pains of various sorts, eventually, in the right mindset, they become the things that awaken us, awakening us to suffering, and therefore the plight of other beings.  The Four Noble Truths come.  The concept of non-duality, removing the dualistic thinking we impose upon experience...  What is pleasure, what is pain?

It feels radical, but then, remember the importance of compassion and the basic contentment of teaching that to a seeking self and pleasure, habitual thinking.

With pleasure, of course, there is suffering too, the knowledge that all things are changing, mortal.  The beauty of an aging parent...

In the night I felt the pangs of all my mistakes, so I saw them.   How hurt my psyche was, the message in my mind tells me;  look what it did to your life.  But then, do not such things become signposts, in a way, a strange comfort of having empathy with all beings, who must endure the same kind of things.  In order to teach that which is worth learning.  The infantile quality of desire...  The very thing is now a primordial cause of the most real happiness you've ever found...

Suffering, the world over...

That is the Cross, I suppose, and how it meets perfectly with Buddhist truth.

The forty days in the desert.  He could read the hearts of the Pharisees because he understood the root of suffering.  He saw in their reaction to him the desire to be better, self-righteous, accusing him of this and that, to show themselves off as something better, purer, more in keeping with the laws, justly compensated, judgmental.

And so he would turn to those who could listen, humbly enough, to tell them not seek to be better before others, prominent in the foremost places.  That would only lead to suffering, temptation.  Beware of what they preach.  He could clearly see it, reading the psychology, that of one in the act of seeking something pleasurable.

 And that's not the point of life.  Better off to go seek sorrowful things, if you need to relax.

Not much is written of the forty days.  Satan offers him the various pleasures of the world.  And that is perfectly sufficient.  Here he now sees, brought home to him, the complications that arise, the suffering...  In one sense how to look beyond dualistic understanding, pleasure, pain, good, bad, self, not-self.   In the desert he has gone beyond the temptations. Not the least, perhaps even primarily, the desire felt by city-dwellers, to be proudly first and foremost, abiding in the laws, the most upstanding of citizens.

Coming from the desert, Jesus would rather suffer the complication, the unhappiness, the confusion of the sinful whose mix is clearly that of the sorrow and suffering pains of their pleasure seeking.  And he has come to the sick to heal them.  And sometimes it is good for them for him to point out examples, lessons, the temptations.

People are interconnected.  Should one derive pleasure in the face of the sorrow and want of others?  The creatures of the planet are all part of this.  And look how nature works, the lilies, the sparrows...

In the desert, a Buddhist place to be, looking for the way to express the knowledge within that comes of life experience...

Vigilant.  Protective.

There's almost a shyness on his part.  What he says is reaction to events, a response.  No, here I am, an active laying down of the new law.  Questionings.  He's calm about it all, confident.

Surely thou wilt say, physician, heal thyself.  By which is meant, get a job, belong to society.  Do the normal things.  Get along, like we all do.  (More notes based on The Rejection at Nazareth, and who would want to touch that one with a ten foot pole...)

But he's too left-brained for that.  His mind is always ticking.

Run out of wine, more or less, needs to get out of the house, goes down to a bar on the avenue, the one friendly one open reeks of stale beer, redolent like cat pee, but they have an okay glass, Le Clos, and out of the house, even amidst the criminal cheesiness of televised over-sell of the worst kind of drugging, now in high definition, to make it more real and bright than the rest of reality...  The Daytona Five Hundred.  The modern bar, with TV sets flashing in the eyes, fascinating.

Here, in this setting, the late night people of the avenue, he's found another Starbuck's, a place to be creative, to think, to let the wheels spin.  Space, even such as it is.  Left brain.  Composing what it all means, from the ancient perspective, felt when he gets away from the avenue up the clean street where the smells of tree and root, dirt, flowers, leaves, replace the commercial blend of agrarian civilization.   Here, the sky again, the moon, trees rising up.  The refreshment of the living plants drinking of the earth's water, as if each were maintaining a balance, so that the rocks below were happy for fulfilling their living mineral organic purpose, the supportive crust.

It took getting out, going down to see people as they are, Russia House, thankfully, closed, even though a target for having a decent Cahors and a good Cotes du Rhone by the glass, but there in the bar, no one you'd particularly want to talk to, the bartender a nice guy, experienced at his trade...  That refreshment a bartender needed, just to sit on the other side, inconspicuously, even alone, but, the mind running as it is trained to.

Friday, February 19, 2016

To write is like sitting out in sunlight, a light which fills the brain.

It was the end of the night that tweaked you.  Burned too many times by the late visits of Ivan and Dimitri.  You were very hungry by kitchen closing.  The waiter was about to do his vanishing act, as would the busboy, after a period of having to dodge him as he lugged out the recycling bin full of wine bottles and swept behind the bar, all of which he did hurriedly and like a linebacker.

There were things you couldn't quite put a finger on, that now, when you should be calming down, a discord of units, one here, one there, the line cook who sat next to the bar mouth in the way of where the glasses were placed after you wiped them as they came hot out of the dishwasher, the music on a Pandora station, had the combined effect of sending your adrenaline skyrocketing.  Everything making you want to take that sip of wine to deal with all.  Such that you'd go home but have no immediate way of calming yourself down.

I find a show, Fat Guys in the Woods, on The Weather Channel, and the bike is already on the training stand.  But there is a lot to do, a lot to get rid because of the last fifteen minutes before the kitchen closes, then the time after that, when you had no choice but to be a people pleaser, so it seemed.  A lot of meditation it takes to rid one of such falseness, such things contrary to order.

And you could work all night, pumping it out, from aperitif to dessert and coffee, while the jazz band played away, another element to stir them all up, and then The Brothers K. would come in, even as the last diners were trickling out, as if the light had just turned, now, green, to play their games, to have their women by and buy a round of drinks for everyone, only confusing things, stirring up different parties of people who'd been just about ready to go home.  Loud.  Gleeful.  Ordering up things of pleasure.

Closing was hard enough already, without having to dodge people, without any dance parties extending the evening.  Restocking.  As few others did as scrupulously.

When you got home, you did the dishes, poured a glass of wine, turned on the TV, what else could you do...  War & Peace, for a few good lines of Tolstoy, like that of the freemason gentleman in the inn who tells Pierre about knowing God.  Those are the things that soothe you.  Like finding a production of The Gospel of Luke on YouTube, and letting it wash over you, what it might all mean, Jesus opening up minds, teaching people how to think again.  His saintly mission of words and the meaning of parables.

My values, how do I act upon them, but by writing.  This is simple.  The act of writing.  Done on a daily basis, whenever you can, basically.  Maybe even when you get home at night, after the bar and the restaurant has done its night.  See again, align the chakras, draw the halo mandala around the consciousness of the head, the cross within that gives you a point to attach words to, for forgiveness of sin, but for many reasons.

I like the kind of novels Kerouac wrote.   Real life and issues.  The shy writer and the Dean Moriarty element of the world...

Thirty years ago, a year which should have been good and golden, the strange events in the life of an English major, feeling burned, not understood.  Missing various callings within, out of pessimism, some of it, as Capricorns tend to be...

Not all of us are meant to write mainstream commercial sort of literature and letters.  For some of us, it takes on a spiritual bent, a kind of reading of books of The Bible and The Gospels or of Buddhism..  How do words find their meaning?  Who are we, what are we about?  Who even has answers?

Over the sea of troubles, you write, but it doesn't always help.  Except for the act itself, which brings some organic calm to the mind.  And you have to ask yourself, about your own sins, none of them intentional so much, but there, steadily, just the same.

What are your values, how to act upon them.  Was writing what got you into trouble in the first place, being the bad student who took writing papers too seriously, who, on a deeper level, wanted himself to write, for absolutely no reason, with no clear story, with no humanly discerned purpose... except the peaceful quality in the world, the gentle way to proceed in it as a human being, something like that, which the writer tries to grasp long enough to show through some paean, plain and simple.

What do you do for a job?  Become a paralegal?

You get to a day off.  You want to write, but the purpose seems to desert you.  Why?  What to write about?  Confusion sets in.

And there must be a reason for this basic fact.  Some godly reason we cannot know about, but must live as Christians through, praying.  Some deep Tolstoyan knowledge... of trying to do the right thing.  The serious thing.  After a lot of wandering and mistake.

Maybe it's not about writing.  Maybe it's about just trying to find yourself.  Quiet, and alone, after all the interactions with people and bar customers in particular, a time of quiet, removal from the ego.  In the quiet space, you find again that which you need to do on a daily spiritual basis, a meditation, expelling the spirits sloughed off in your vicinity, the egos, the demanding lady.  At last, the gentle space you need, after the craziness.  The great shyness, the thing that comes so naturally to you, as if you were hard-wired to be, in Alan Watts' terms, a forest dweller.

I do not know why I write.  One has never been able to detect a clear purpose to it, but to explore the fields of memories.  I am a lazy man, I know, unproductive, but it always feels like one has to find his own values, which so far have not been explained or set out by a clear societal model.

Who is this strange quiet sensitive prudish being he finds himself as on the day off.  Purposeless, peaceful, lazy, completely unclear about everything...

In a bar you cannot listen to God.  There are too many people talking.

That year I was a bad student, taking Pritchard's class on my favorite poets, Yeats and Larkin and Hardy...  what went wrong that year?  So much to say, and yet, I said little in class, and wrote only one paper.

When you are actually writing the things you want to write seem to vanish, run away, and then so does the passion, replaced by a sense of things like feeling stupid, awkward, embarrassed, ineffective...  You want to take care of the things of the body, nourishment, rest, exercise.  You want to let the alone time take its course.  You want to read.  Go out to the grocery store for the reassurance of good things to eat, without being confronted...  Avoid the wine shop.   The corner bistro, the bars...  Instead listen, listen to your own words for that knowledge of God.  Simplicity.  Change toward that direction...

Go deep into thought.  Away from socializing.

At the end of the week, I am pushed into the night, quiet and alone, which I do not always mind.  Out for groceries, a nap after a bit of cheese...  Not feeling up for cooking.  A nap longer than expected.

"You don't believe in God because you don't know him...  God is apprehended not by reason... but by life."  The FreeMason talking to Pierre...

People in DC are not the most moderate...  Thus were they hard to wait on.  That's what made it so exhausting.  City people.  A mix of people whose blood types are compatible with the modern world.

What would Jesus do in this world anyway, of ocean plastic, Fukushima radiated sea currents of poisoned cancerous fish, of loud politics, of income inequality, of all the stirred-up evil present in the world, casters of stones...  Could thy faith make thee whole again?

But if you write, maybe you get some of that out, some of that faithful thing that gets trodden upon and intoxicated.  Some short little essay, some string of otherwise completely inconsequential words vulnerable and weak in meaning...

Maybe that's what it's about, getting back to Peter's boat, and the evidence of faith and its basic powers, simplicity.  Thou art cured.  Old girlfriends come back to you, and everyone, everything, is forgiven, revealed as trifling little errors we good-hearted beings are subject to, such that Buddhism really does apply.  (Something to wipe away, as yoga does, that feeling, what a loser I am.)  Just trying to keep it together, find the right sort of work to engage in.  You are recognized again as some form of scholar.  Via the book you wrote.

There is spiritual beauty in looking down into water, pondering it.  Even in a tea cup.  Why not, then, a book?  Behold the lilies of the field, and the sparrow's raiment.

Or is it clever marketing that makes you the expert?

Writing is pained sometimes, but you feel better afterward because of it.

There are things that are hard to put into words, such as "what am I meant to be..."

Without faith, you can allow things which are harmful.  Thus, "make thyself whole."  Which is not at all far away from Buddhism, the illusions of the mind causing us trouble.  They--Jesus and Buddha--both seem to have the sense of what it is to be the Prodigal Son, faithless, caught in the illusions of the solid fixed self.  Does one even know what he is doing...

Tending bar...  how strange...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Let's see.  Sunday was Valentine's Day.  A shift looked forward to starting in December, the holidays are coming, the special menu nights.  And Sunday wound down, finally, after much, and then it was snowing.  It was really snowing.

And then there was Monday.  A Federal Holiday, and the snow turning from slush on the salted roads to freezing rain, no, it's not going to be a big night at The Old Dying Gaul.  The musicians cancel, a trio, gypsy swing, minutes before the door opens.  What are you going to do?  Send the busboy home.  And yet, there are the people, couples, who couldn't make it on the big night of Valentines Day, and who now come.  Their special night.  No one told me.  The night will drag on, even as the signal from the kitchen is close early, 8:30.

The romantics are not the only ones to drop by.  Regular brings cousin, who is going overseas, to foreign places where wars are being fought, where no form of booze is served in deployment.  Time to have a good dinner, and a Paul Mas.  Okay.  So this is not going to be as simple as the plan that comes from the exterior.

The two meet the other two,  there's a birthday to celebrate, regular hooks up with the storied other two, and everyone wants to go out a cigar bar.  Out on the street, now that every last soul from the restaurant is gone except for those late night people, a coating of glare ice over everything, and the bricks out front, the sidewalk, that four millimeter thick frozen layer.

"Come meet us out at Clyde's."  But I know, what I have to do, to restock, since I've had no busboy to help, and the Latin help isn't so engaged when they come to help.  It will be an interesting ride home, bundled up like a space man.  The main roads have been salted.  Before leaving I walk carefully across the street to see what the backstreets are like, and even with knobby tires, it looks dangerous.

I get home okay.  No Uber Navigators getting aggressive on my position as I drop down Wisconsin Avenue.  And up the last street, a car crashed into Sheridan Circle, the same perfect ice rink coating, such that one had to grip on railings.  In the door, the bike having been through it, dripping.

Takes a long time to all asleep.  War & Peace on TV.  Guitar, banjo...

And then the next day.  Again it's going to be slow.  Wake late, but the ice, and all the snow have melted perfectly, even, as I find, facing the wind, in the woods.

Face the same thing.  Try to make something of famous wine tasting.  Beaujolais Blanc, Provence Rouge.   And it's another slow one, close the kitchen early, but then yet again, everyone comes up to the bar, that's cool.

Then, getting on the bike again, to go home.  And finally, I get back to the circle of Lincoln's short general who did well in the blue ridge.   There is a homeless man camped out with his material on the eastern side of the circle underneath the tree that has been tended to.  And somewhere there is the sound of a cat crying.  And where is the cat sound coming from?  Over west by Korea?

I get riding around the circle, and the sound is louder, and it the sound is traced to the bushes in front of the grandest building, a work which curves with the circle, Beaux Art, happens to be the residence of the Egyptian Ambassador.

There it turns out there are two cats who are crying upset at each other.  In my bike headlamp I see two shiny eyes in the darkness of bushes, and then I see a cat, a large one, and then, the other, and they are not happy with each other.  They fight, I shout, being a good Christian, "stop it, boys," and then a man comes out the front door urgently with a flashlight.

There are two cats, fighting, I explain.  What?  Cats, I tell him.  One is grey, one is orange, I explain.  Cats?  Sorry, I say.

And then it occurs to me, as I pedal away.  "Really, two cats..."  The guy has enough problems.

The next day I awake, feeling the week's shifts, the neighbor's kind cat comes down and chirps at me like cheetas do as I stir some astragalus powder into my dragon well tea.  I remember the conversation at the bar mouth with a  kind lady from the neighborhood up at work.  It was about my book, the book I wrote.  I'm a little too busy, but she mentions 'how could you remember all that...' and we chuckle when I shrug and gesture toward a wine bottle.  But she is kind, and has enjoyed reading so far.  And an interesting comment, that it is not about being part of mainstream commercial literature book trade.  It's about the meaning of the act of writing, about the spirituality of the novelist inherent.  "Of course, now you have to go and write some novels," yes that is the problem.  But there's a big market for that these days, spirituality...

Oh well, what can you do, you get up when you get up, which has to do with how work revs your engine, how much, how long, at what time, the false lulls, the late hit, etc.   And so, after a pot of tea, running late, I hit the shower, and get ready for Jazz Night number Two, during which I will be bedeviled by various camps...

The warm energetic waters reach down, refreshing my DNA, and I decide to shave after all.  And my earth mother friend, free from ego, has reminded me of something that the male, in his ungentle struggles with his body against the weight of labors, needed reminding of.  The spiritual quest, the struggle of trying to be a decent person, and in the book, not just totally solely about one's own romantic failures and the stuff of heartbreak, but of some kind of a values system, shaky at that age, as it might always be, not quite fully formed, a work in progress.  And that helps.  So I cross myself, hope the silliness will not come tonight, that I won't waste my male energies tomorrow, distracted, in the lazy spirit of the day off...   And I will write about it all.

Wist ye not, the spirit is the novel, as it has  always been.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It was a hard job.  There were a lot of pains to it, unseen.  Collateral damage.  The forced strength of the peace keeper.  Talking to people.  There were the people who'd sit for a long time, two stools, of a six stool bar, a lot of energy.    Occasionally someone abhorrent... you had to deal with, no way to get rid of them.  Leaning over with loud gaiety, "how are you, young lady... " then later, talking about her dating woes.  End of the night:  "Can I have a cigarette?  I had a cigarette last time..."  And the non-driver of the couple enjoying good pinot is getting exponentially more toasted by the last glass..  Much as you've really enjoyed them, their friendship and their humor all night, tastes good wines with you.   The last hour was the hardest, taking more energy when you were running out of it.

And then, somewhere through cleaning up, restocking, putting away, doing the night's checkout report, you'd eat dinner, and with the stress have a few tastes of wine.  The escargot you ate in about ten seconds, quickly, in the corner, still when there were customers.  Reheating a hamburger with onion on Ezekial bread in the oven...  The Bordeaux tastes good, though in the end, by itself the vanilla oak taste grating to my taste.  Tired now, everything taking energy, the heaviness at this far reach of human space, at the very fringes of society....  Alone, with nothing but music and the need to get one thing done then another, all alone.  The meditative silence...  They left at midnight, and now it's two.  Still got to bike home in the cold.

Then there's home.  Peeling off the outer gear, off with the courier bag.  A production of War & Peace well done on TV.   Pierre, the likable stand-in for the writer Tolstoy.  Where have the years gone, in doing my strange job...   And am I, by Tolstoy's old morality of Russian society, an amoral, an immoral type, a fallen person...  But as all people, fundamentally, with good heart.

It was an impossible job, one that seemed reasonable enough, but which the particular circumstances of made it something you shouldn't ask of people.

And yet, it gave you a certain freedom, such as some of us seem to need.  A part of the bio-feedback system to which our response is to serve what works for us, the individual.  Does it make you congested, constipated, gassy, fat, slow, your body is telling you to give it up.

That quiet time, to absorb the battle of the day, the good things, the things that disgust you.  And it's part of writing.  It's part of being human, of doing what human beings do.  Some of us require some time by ourselves, given our circumstances...  A period of digestion.  The same people, the very same, are those who most benefit from being amongst people, to catch and respond to the billion messages in between the glorious primate formed in God's own image.  Deprive ourselves of that is not healthy.  But, at the same time, to let the crowd free, to act as they might, well, that's a strain to deal with.  Where do you say no to them...

How far, how far have I drifted afield....  That's what you end up thinking sometimes...  I used to read a lot about political and world history...  Where did all that go?  The kid who listened to a record of JFK speeches, read biographies...  Where have I ended up, compared with my college classmates...

I tune up an old banjo my best friends found.  The trick was finding where to put the floating bridge. Measuring, to the twelfth fret, then to the bridge.  The tuners tight.  And then the sound.  Enough to make an Irishman happy, late at night.

Then, finally, an hour, a tick later, each shift, you'd finally go to bed, and then you'd sleep.  And once sleep was entered, as it does, fortunately, sleep takes over, and weaves together the tired fibers, and the rubbed bones, and all the joints that had done their thing, and everything needed water.  Sleep, and sleep, and then, finally, you'd dream, and then you'd wake up...  What am I doing with my life.  The chronicles of those who do not know what to profitably do with their lives...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Jesus running a writer's workshop...  I kind of like the idea.  You bare your soul, to varying extents, write dumb things, all amateurish mistakes, but then you learn you have an instructor, and that you can learn from him, as far as trying to get to what you've been after all along.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


On the Sunday Mass before Ash Wednesday, the priest, who's been at it twenty years, speaks of the two, and there are only two, vocations, that of priesthood, and that of marriage.  Two vows there are.  In this, the Catholic world view.

The next day, I reflect for my therapist.  There are two vocations.  Two callings.  Two great discoveries, of what our talents are, of what God gives us, wants us to do.  "And there was that clear calling.  I was called to marriage, to be her husband, to love her, to put up with her, to do anything for her, to take the vow, 'til death do us part.'  And I, my fault, I messed it all up.  Again and again.  Got distracted.  Friends.  Even as much as I tried to protect myself from outside influences."

And today I wake up, realizing the truth of all that, as every morning, some small part of the string of the mistakes plays through my waking mind, some opportunity, handed to me from God, gets misused in an almost classic fashion.

"And that's the tale of my life, doc.   The last twenty eight, thirty years or so.  And writing a book about it, that doesn't seem to me to be God's calling, but a substitute, one that doesn't really do it."  I took a sip from my plastic water cup, looking down into it.  "I've not done much in those years.  Tried to be a good son, a good friend, tried to have a social life, but in an erroneous fashion, that of working the bar part of a restaurant...   I'm not even in the right town.  I've been a sleep-walker through life.  Self-medicated...

"You miss your calling.  It's plain to see, it's right in front of you.  But you make all the mistakes of a young fool.  And all the career stuff, it all comes out of the calling, comes about because of it, gives you a reason to do something.  Gives you a language in which to speak.  Gives you a soundtrack, music to work by, and then, with that love and support, things happen;  you move forward.  But if you are so obsessed on finding a calling that you miss the calling, the clear beckon to the vocation that you hear without even knowing much about it but that it works for you, then what?

"Well, life's not going to be a lot of fun.  There's Buddhism, a self-negation, trying to make it all not mean as much to you as it does organically...  There's yoga...  There's Chekhov stories...  But then, naked and unhappy, I guess the only thing left is found in Luke's Gospel.  The Beatitudes.  Happy are the meek and the mournful, for they shall have their reward in Heaven... Well, that's quite a statement.

"Where does one find satisfaction?  A balm for such pains...  At least Jesus is honest.  There are such people.  They are the ones who better hear of the love of God?  They appreciate it more because their life ain't so hot?

"Trying to find a calling, I missed mine.  I missed a whole life.

"But Jesus says it with such certainty.  There's something to it.  There has to be....

"Does it  come down to the fact that we are sensitive creatures, more than we would want to be?  That our pains and joys are more than we would anticipate?

"Are sorrows a talent some of us simply have...

But the doctors, of literature and scholarship, at Amherst, they did as much to not be as sensitive to my calling as anyone.  They saw, or could have seen, how much I put into writing a paper...  Did they see my search for a mythical language, or that this search is what a writer is about?  I tried to make that final point over Hemingway and The Old Man and the Sea, but it was one bad grade after another, after the good start and the calling came...

The doctors are the ones who are supposed to help you, but instead they say, why do you cure on the sabbath, i.e., late, why was your paper on Paradise Lost late, here's another shitty grade (after we ourselves have awakened your mind to the great calling, as if we were now some sort of unspeaking cabal who have to control it, lest we lose what we, royally, have... control, jobs, tenure, respect...  Like my dad, my old man, said, rank opportunists.  That's what he said.

No wonder Jesus got angry with them.  Youthful son of the scholar, Joseph (often mistranslated as carpenter...)

Should have kissed their asses, old boy..

I mean, yeah, doc, why wouldn't he have wanted to hang out with fisherman, bureaucrats, crazy customers, restaurant people, chefs...  The Pharisees would have made him sick to his stomach, and they in turn would simply have thought of him as a sort of undergrad of excesses, hard to understand by their own codified language and procedures...

You know, try to keep a sense of humor about it all..

You're right, a little bit of yoga, walk to work, meditate to clear the mind, that's all, then you're good..

Yes, so you miss your calling...   You fall into your own Tale of Two Cities kind of a story, ill, injured, in need of being nursed back to health...  But at least then you know what the problem is.  It was a great calling, and you took it seriously.  Maybe so much that you messed it up.  (Dostoevsky wrote "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.")  The calling was enmeshed in the other callings.  Like Ted Hughes is called to write about his love for his wife, God rest their souls...  And yes, we can see how imperfect we are, how poverty stricken, how far blown off course, but if we dwell just on that, then again we are missing that chance to live out the Godly potential that comes to us on Easter morn.

Does time matter, thirty years passed, does that matter anymore?  You love, you love.  No one is perfect.  In fact, quite the opposite, terribly so.  Love and the circumstances we are in makes for a kind of walled prison we all must try to reach out of.  Isn't that terrible.  And so it is that it is impossible, completely impossible, by the rules of this life, with the great exception of God's love, which in turn shapes our own love and the humble realistic possibilities of it, at the feet of which we are all sinful and fallen.

That's what I think, and that's what I've found, and yes, it is terrible, a terrible beauty the likes of which we can barely look at directly.  Maybe this too is what the Beatitudes refer to, the circumstances in which we, meek, mournful, poor, humbled, can offer our love for another.  Do we have a choice or any power over such an all-encompassing monumental truth such as we have no powers against such.  Just as easily could we fight time itself, aging, death...

And so all the little insults of life, they carry great sting, because it's already nearly impossible that we would be able to take the love we have in our hearts and make anything of it.  Our love is writ on a poet's tombstone, or in the Psalm of some choir of the kind of religiosity we would like to emulate ourselves somehow, if we only knew how.  That love is the most fragile thing, as far as actualizing it, but strangely, one can guess that this property is tied into how enduring, permanent, strong, like the ocean is present, love might actually be.  A little bit shines out from time to time.

Who can control such a thing?  Who could make it manifest, but by, as logic might hold, some great test, of time, of loss, of distance, of space, all the known properties of the universe.  The realm of The Winter's Tale, poet, playwright...   Perhaps that the beings carrying it would initially fail somehow in connecting steadfastly could only speak of the truth of it.  For which we no longer need to be so heavily sad about it in our right minds....

The sun sets, it becomes, night, winter, but the sun also riseth.  So maybe there is, in honesty, some form of hope out there.  Not that we would know it.

Then can shame turn out into some form of pride, maybe...  And sins would cease, seen differently, by the act of words, words of a fallible creature trying to figure out the nature of reality, without ever knowing a final answer.

So is there rejection in the world, and strife.  Because of the deep seriousness of it all.  And a calling within a calling within a calling.

A book within a book within a book.  Within meaning, deeper meaning.

Love that which is lovable in people...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

But what's the value of writing?  What does the act mean?  Is it a moral act?  Is it supposed to help anyone?  Is there the value of 'art' or 'craft?'

One writes not to be better at it than anyone else, but to find and explain the sensitive nature of the creature within us, that spiritual person within who grapples with a discomfort toward sin, with shyness, with the need for quiet prayer.  We don't always know we have this being within us, overly sensitive, always on guard against sin.

No one wants to find out that he is too sensitive, not a young man.  He will feel ashamed of the fact when stacked up against the world in which he lives.  He will wonder over his shyness, his prudishness, his distaste.

But it makes it easier to face the devils, knowing of what they were, charming, always, fun, ever, but leading one to a sense of shame.  And it helps you, even if you don't always succeed at controlling them, to know who you are, even if it is embarrassing, awkward, an admission that you don't belong with the crowd.  Which is, I suppose, why one waits on people, because there is a greater happiness in serving than being served, even if it leads you to a life that might seem pretty lonely sometimes.

Have I been an enabler of sin, a people pleaser, an excuse not to go home but to linger?  What should I be doing with myself, so that there wouldn't be sin, so that there wouldn't be a weakening of the good?

Lord, depart from me, because I am a sinful man.  Even my very job...

But there is something that seems to sustain me.  What's the use of art, if it is not put to some moral end, an end to help other people get out of the things that are making them unhappy?  Religion, spirituality, is sneered at as the cause of all wars and tensions, but I find a place for it.  And when you connect people to their own inner innate sensitivity they can see that place for the religious, a practical use.

The story I wrote, I see it now the story of a sensitive young person, coping with the nature of sin, trying to figure out how to be righteous in the world.  It's the beginning of a story, not the full realization.

I read from Raymond Carver at the end of the night, still hearing their voices.  I read the story about Dummy, the guy who sweeps up at the mill.  I light some incense, and later when I get a day off I avoid the bar.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Old Testament reading was from II. Samuel, 16:5 on.   A man of the family of the house of Saul comes forth and curses David.  "... and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son; and, behold, thou are taken in mischief, because thou art a bloody man," continues the man, cursing David.  David, holding back his own forces, says, "so let him, curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David."  And David speaks of how his son, Absalom, "seeketh my life: how much more may this Benjamite do it?  let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him."

The New Testament reading, read by Father Hurley himself, related the story of the man at the far side of the sea, the man inhabiting a graveyard, unable to be restrained with chains, who's afflicting demon's name is legion, who Jesus saves by casting into the herd of two thousand swine.

And when he finished the reading, the Father gently mused about how 'here we have two unhappy families...'  And the final point of his sermon, was that even in such cases, there was, ultimately, the mercy, love and kindness of the Lord who loves us.

When we sat down to our family meal supper at the round table near the kitchen, those of us gathered for a Monday night shift, a Jazz night for those of us up at the wine bar, of this the second week of Restaurant Week the winter version, the chef joined us, and explained a bit of the difficulty and the weariness of the back of the house.  Pushing the restaurant week menu, he had to throw out some of the mainstays from the regular menu for having gone bad.  (And I thought, you threw out a cassoulet, surely we could have eaten it for staff meal and profited by it in our stomachs, particularly when ten o'clock rolls around...)   I picked up on what may have been a hint, but later on people still seemed obsessed with the restaurant week deal, and indeed, though a lot of traffic had come through The Dying Gaul, there was not much in the way of profitable food costs.

We parted, after speaking of the low numbers of a few things, only eight orders of escargot available tonight, and I went upstairs to finish getting ready.

The door was unlocked, no customers were beating down the door, and then the figure of the chef came up the stairs, I expected for an adjustment to the night's menu, a change of vegetable perhaps.  He asked us if we'd heard the news about the Swiss chef, our chef himself being Swiss.  The suicide of a prominent European chef whose restaurant had been proclaimed "Best in the World" had made the Google news.  I said, yes, I'd heard the news, but...

And so he went on to the tell the tale of chefs, and of the pressure they are under, the pressure he felt he was under when he first came to us, when the restaurant could have gone either way.  "Yeah, you don't want that, you don't want that pressure of Michelan stars, because then all you can do is lose them."  He told us, me, the busboy Don José, and the new very competent bright active guy from Brazil, how he cannot read a bad review without it ruining his day.  Yelp.  You do everything right, but you make one mistake, let one thing stay in the oven one extra minute, and they get on your case. What you can hope for is consistency.  But really, a chef doesn't do it for the money.  You want to make money, do a place like Old Ebbitt, recognizable basic uninteresting (creatively mediocre)...  Try to be creative, you just end up killing yourself, and I'm getting too old for it.  It's really not worth it.  He turned and mused for a second.  You want the real story of the restaurant, read Kitchen Confidential.  I was already engaged at this point, the guy can write, references to Orwell...

We empathized with him, and he mused that he should have been a hotel GM, something like that, if he had to do it all over again.

Somewhere within that, he spoke of the pressure, how he used to cope with it, the anger, the frustration, by drinking.  "It worked just fine," he laughed.  "But now," he said when I pursued the matter, interested in the subject of how one might quit, "I talk.  You have to talk.  Even if there's no response...  Talk to someone."  Then he turned, and walked, with his aging knees, back down the stairs.

My new co-worker is wise.  From Sao Paolo.  A musician.  He's had a lot of experience dealing with the restaurants.   People start to come in.  And then, a prophecy of the evening, he says to me, "man, how come it's always the crazy people who sit at the bar."  Yes, this is very true.  "Are they lonely..."

The night was just about over, the last cheese plate served, the band wrapping up, when the usual late night glad-hander came up the stairs with handkerchief just so out of the breast pocket of his jacket, explaining his life was chaotic, and this added another hour to my night and a push into the wine I didn't need.  "Which wine do you think I should have," he asks me, after I pour him two then three tastes to see what mood the wine is in.  "See," I explain to the woman who has demanded my attention talking for much of the night, rambling about which champagnes she likes, what she keeps in her fridge should friends come by, all of which I am not judgmental of, "this is how he gets me into drinking," and the fellow is the drum major of many a party that floats from bar to bar.  It's always something.  And the jazz is done, and the kitchen is closed, and the barman just wants to clean up, eat something, wait for the kitchen to be clean, that's it, lights out, go home.

I finally got home on my old Bianchi road bike, and found the lovely book my lovely old scholarly mom wrote, and I flipped admiringly through it, how much sense it all made, what a great point, many great points, and such beautiful readable prose, Reading and Writing Ourselves into Being, but I was too tired to read much of it before turning the lights out.

Buddhist or not, one is reminded of that feeling Fitzgerald rendered, looking across a bay at the unattainable lights of the other Egg.

And the next day I had that great need to write, just to corral all the things that were bringing me curses and anguish.  You don't write for the money.  It's something in your blood, the need for prose, to make things manageable, to ameliorate the sins of the world.  I thought of all my sad mistakes over affairs of the heart, of bad career choices that grew out of the need to write as a way of, sort of, redressing grievances and the constant pangs of heartache to start the day and the sense of being trapped on a train you don't know where is headed, and other manner of unhappy thoughts.

I woke, sat in the sun, not much time to read Mom's good book, but I'll sit out in the sun for a bit, make green tea, hot water with lemon, do the dishes, maybe roll on the bike indoors a bit, or do yoga, cook a hamburger, get ready to show up at work and experience more of the life not always intellectual, my own fault for it being so.

You have to talk, the chef said, and I remember that.  And we all, I suppose, even the different blood types, have their own ways of talking, talking in order to remember the saving grace of Our Father Who Art In Heaven.