Thursday, March 31, 2016

When I got out of college, I went home, mainly to my father's apartment down in the village of Clinton near the Oriskany Creek.  I had no idea what to do with myself professionally.  I worked for a while with an old landscaping crew.  I went to the library and read, as if it was my office, going up the Hill with my father in the morning, meeting him for lunch, then returning.  I tried to write, I suppose, but I had no idea, really, my purpose or my form, and I was feeling a bit down about myself, and though once I'd been a good student, confident, responsible, it seemed I hadn't covered myself with academic glory in the latter part of the four years, and I was a bit heartbroken, in that youthful way, imagining a perfect marriage without even having a profession.

It seemed I had found a profession there, within the English Department, but at the same time I had also seemed to have lost it, the thread of it anyway.  I had a fantasy of a pick-up truck and a dog, wishing to return to the woods and the streams and the cow fields and the old roads and rolling hills of my youth.  I'd go out to Syracuse to visit with my mom on the weekends.  I'd run the '78 Rabbit without checking the oil once, and it was losing steam.  In fact, it broke down finally as I got on the thruway at Westmoreland to go back to Homecoming, to see my friends, mainly to see 'her.'  I got as far as Utica, the car straining to reach 45 mph, and the Cv Joint of the front wheel drive failing just as I pulled back into the parking lot of the apartment complex.  (Dad generously let me borrow his own car.  Things meant to go well did not go well, I got distracted by my friends, and it all turned into the familiar disaster.)

I held on to some Zen scholar fantasy of living quietly, making tea, being wise, back in Clinton, but I was getting nowhere, time was passing.  I moved to DC, as if slinking off, taking a duffel bag and a wardrobe on a long train ride, arriving a steamy night in late May.  I got a job through a temp agency, a miserable clerkship, and I bussed tables at a lively-enough place where in motion I could hide my pain from myself, then go home, exhausted, and sleep, and sleep on weekends.  Getting into the work of the restaurant business was the worst waste of time.  I ditched the office job, just as the 401k plan kicked in, and I started to write, going down to the sidewalk coffee shop on the avenue with a legal pad, having no idea what I was doing.

I didn't mind the hours so much of that fate of keeping bar in a responsible enough fashion.  I still had parts of the day free, but I remained in perpetual struggle with myself, to be the sort of person I wanted to be.  Still I grasped for a role model, and slogged through the shifts politely, allowing myself to get dragged down into the last late conversations.  And somehow, I put together a manuscript, took a few writing workshop classes, kept up with the legal pads, banged away rolling the boulder up the hill in a futile act.

But to know you're a writer, of some sort, is to know something crucial.  Perhaps it is even as much of a thing as one's own sexual identity, as if one were in need of a coming out, of a brave admission of one's intentions and desires, as to a young woman who's basic job it is to reject you at first and see then how you handle it.   You can even confuse it with the desire to be religious, to be as a prophet, a great teacher, even ridiculous as that sounds.  As you'll always know your own constraints, weaknesses...

There are no guides but the starlight of those writers who've gone before you, who've owned it, who've stuck with it, who grasped writing as something true and important to the organism, the being within, even with the world being such as it is.  What credential can you have, but some little reedy from of self-confidence in it, returning to it when the day is still and quiet.

It comes out as it comes out.  An editor is vitally necessary, and I suppose time is good at that.  Thou art that which is, the word, the story, the nutshell of humanity.  Always, that belief.  Even if no solid evidence, nothing for the generation seeking, looking for, a sign.

Maybe that is where one finds the sense of freedom, the freedom to change, to treat the things that deserve respect with respect, not the poor slob even trying to curry favor, intimidated, weak and agreeable, spineless, no longer in touch with that magnificence within and its manifestos.

The small daily little literary act, biting off a small piece of the mind, reassuring of purpose, tuning the out of tune strings...  summoning inner values vastly different, a world away from the city one pretends.

The mistake of mistaking values, the day off in search of some thing of nature, some organic creature or event, looked for in the woods along Rock Creek, some way to be truly myself, not an imposter smiling away.  I didn't even mind the sadness of what had happened, the world's imperfection when perfect people meet but don't stay that way, as long as it fitted in with that vague amorphous directionless scholar the poet writer.  Books are a value you have to be proud about, as if you'd been imprisoned for keeping them, were not allowed to touch them but for rare treats of good behavior allowed by the jailor, the whole confusing experience of being imprisoned also something that had to do with it all.  Not any talent, in particular, nor any clever skill, but the naive bits of one's personality that fostered and engaged with written word, those things which get one into trouble with the smooth workings of society.

The prisoner has no talent but that of realizing the framing of a story, a hope for fleshing it out.  Writing letters.

"What's holding you back?  The usual roadblock that keeps you from moving forward."

The lady customer reinforces the goodness of the barman taking a break from his job, to go see his mom.  "Oh, yes," she says.  "It's cumulative.  You should take more, a day off here and there to get you out of your routine..."  I thought of my lovely mom and her lovely life with her books.  I thought of my scholarly father.

What false persona have you fallen for, from being once all dressed up and no place to go, or from quietly imagining some stoic denim-ed American hero not unlike James Dean or Jack Kerouac, Hemingway on a camping trip (Kerouac wore workmanlike khakis.)  You're an intelligent person.  What sort of peer pressure have you fallen for, fitting in, circumventing the work of the sensitive...  Self protection now.  Trying to fit in, that's what will make you miserable.  The embarrassment of falling into a persona that's not you, the jock, the drinker, the rowdy...

Time alone is the thing, the necessary reestablishment of the connection...

The first books we write, the main story is simply that of a writer coming of age.  There's still a lot of growing up to do until you realize that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Each of us has his own language, his own way of using it.

After the snow had receded, I'd put boots on, off to follow the stream above the house.  The world stood mountainous, timbered with a great forest, full of symbol, the piece of land below the cow fields and woods holding the sacred brook which ran wildly behind our house.  Crossing the diversion ditch, the grass green to the edge of the stream, cattails folded over, the first of the deep parts of the stream where the water came up to the tops of rubber boot, the woods and the vale coming to life.  I followed the stream upward, under grey late March or April skies, past the old fallen willow trunk, a curve in the stream, the adventure of meltwater in the Springtime of the year.  The stream was a river, and I was big in it.  There were places the water was deeper, so I must have walked with a stick before me.  The water, gurgled, rushed, roared quietly tinkled, and the world was becoming green again, buds and honeysuckle, the yellow shoots that came up from the old willow's broken stump.  Even better if it was raining the right kind of rain, the surfaced water pulled against my booted legs balanced on the firm pebbly bottom.  The deepest wildest pools were upstream,  where the broadness of the swamp narrowed to the last gully where the hill that came down from the road was a sledding course through small fingers of trees growing up in old orchard or pasture land.

Above that, beyond a picnic spot where sparkling apple wine was served one summer, the thicket grew closer to the stream and then barbed wire.  Then a steep hill of brambles and trees, then the dirt road to the field above us, this in the days before Chuck Root built a house up there out of the barn that stood vacant up where Ernst met Champion Road.

Back down below the diversion ditch, over which my brother built his first tree-house, closer to the swamp and its inner pools, the stream was wider and shallow, less a mystery as it coursed and dropped under higher banks and over horsebone through the woods, then dropping below our property where it meandered into channels and muddy pools.  Far below at the bottom of the road there was the old reservoir.  When the summer electrical storm downpours came, a shallow brown stream ran across the front yard.

The writer's thoughts meander, sometimes the flow is greater.

As much as anything these days I reflect on a piece by Ted Hughes, the story of the poem The Thought-Fox, the explanation of the dream that comes to him after giving up on the attempt to write the weekly essay and going to bed.  The burnt fox hand, leaving a bloody print.  'You have to stop this--you're destroying us.'  The poem is hand in glove with the story of how the poem came about.  Hughes the poet with confidence.

The same thing happened to me, perhaps to all writers.  It just happened, at an embarrassing time when I should have been pushing through to prove my place amongst literary scholars and academics, as what other route is there?  You've got to stop now.  Make way to clear your own path, to it, to 'us.'  That's what makes us writers shy.  There is such a thing, as Hughes gives flesh to from dream, and it is a scary thing, leaving the psyche shaken with its 'you can't go back.'  Would that it would not visit, but it does.  And then you push on through, as you only can, in your own way, in your own way, self-contained, private like Emily Dickinson, protective.  Realize the validity of the voice, and then to see where and whether you're being 'an idiot.'

Well, you know, you can blame yourself for everything.  The shyness that comes in, breaking out in the course of normal courtship, the shyness about writing papers on even those poets who are your own, your home turf, your blood.  The claim, not of 'I know so much,' but 'what little I know.'  Let it come through gentle dreams and dopey musings.

Rights to be acknowledged there should be for poets.  Not vagrancy laws.  Take away the self-blame.  Put it in your left armpit, as your mother tells you, speaking from experience about the voices.  Remember, you're an Amherst man, I say to encourage myself.

My mother's books are tangled now.  Now they go through their seasons.  I.A. Richards next to Dryden, next to Melville and Thoreau, and now even the classics, Bernard Knox guides what used to be to her 'men looking for trouble.'  Her Henry James phase, recent.  Emily always.  Women and literacy.  Book history, a pile of Audubon Society magazines and New York Times, a sanctuary, a refuge where the assembled birds of words act as they do in natural habitat, on their migratory routes, as the Earth dictates.  She shows me Fine Books & Collections Magazine.   The visit restores and refreshes, reminds me from whence I come.

Me, I suppose I dreamed for years over that girl in the book, wondered where I'd gone wrong, why I' froze so often in my tracks, as if to ask, 'hey, give me a minute to think,' when it was not a time to think, except if you happened to be cut out of poet cloth and flesh and mind.  And so I was not a professional, I suppose, as a writer, because I still attached my shyness to her, thus part of the thing gone wrong, whereas when you are your self, your true self, you aren't doing wrong at all, and maybe even some good, hopeful, in the world.  The shyness was part of the thing that had gone right, that had been privy to a deeper self-confidence, even if it was separate from the world, separate from a professional life and compensation.

Then the shyness I tried to cover up, later on, stung, by taking up a public role that did not allow for it, that forced me out into a persona that could appear to cope with the world on its terms.  A half-hearted, almost traitor sort of a role, but for the Irish, the legacy, the bardic tradition, a tribute to the places where words, and even literary words sometimes, hit the pavement and intersect with life and soul.  Not that anyone would admit it, but on rare occasions.  You have to be careful around rare calming elixirs when you are so.  You have to be careful about identifying with them too closely.

What would you hope to achieve, the therapist asks, when you mumble about sending your book to a place in the past.  Even amidst all this talk of values.  Okay, well, the thing does stand on its own, sort of like that monolith they find in 2001 A Space Odyssey, the golden rectangle shaped doorway connected to it somehow, as if to enter in was to rediscover all the light, all the memories, experiences of a life, any life.  You could pick up dirt and toss it up and do the same.  But to send it out, in general, wouldn't that be standing up for your values, for mine, particular as they might be, outlandish, impractical...

Catching the secret vibration, the cosmic concurrence, how the poet's great documentable shyness is the doorway he passes through leaving the camel behind.

To write is to believe in a process greater, beyond one's own.  I stumbled into Benjamin DeMott's Introduction to English section, and the very first poem we read, John Clare, Winter in the Fens, 'so moping dull and low our valleys lie,' spoke with such a resonance.  A by-gone world, perhaps, but one's own.

I am a democrat about all this, I suppose.  Not of any special talent, nor magnificent English vocabulary, nor particularly well-steeped in the great works rich in words.  Aware of them, yes.  And not quite a hod-carrier, neither, for words take a sensitivity, and they open up things you didn't see the day before, thus keeping you fresh, and a way of treating things, like the odd feeling of why one would need to write at all in the first place.

(If you) Blame yourself, you lose your natural confidence, the innate ability, which we all share, of being able to read and truly enjoy Shakespeare, as Hughes was allowed to do one summer manning an army radio outpost.

Turn off the news, shut down Facebook and email and Google news and all the trying to keep up with it.  A recovering writer, I joke, I'll always be.  And to write is the only way to discover the science of it all.

Even in youth there is a wisdom, inner, psychic, of the body, unconscious, and as we grow older, we understand.  We forgive ourselves.  We see the wisdom, even when it's still not easy to accept.

I suppose it would have been a bit difficult, finding yourself coming apart as a student.  Was it the bug of Hemingway that influenced me, making me think I could do it, be a writer.  Taking English classes, as Hughes writes in his essay, was supposed to make you a better writer.   You loved the subject matter, and the teacher as much.  It is the fascination of the subject matter that causes the problems.  The higher cause.  Even as JFK alluded to when he came to dedicate the library and the groundbreaking.

It hits at a creature level, organic, in the pulsing atoms of one's own being.  The light, of health, mental and physical, the sight of the great work which lies before you.  Yes, on one level maybe it is a bit sad sometimes, in a careful considered way, the work to do.  Why me?  Couldn't I have a career of some other sort, of some real sort, rather than this claim that floats in like clouds?

At my age the last men at the bar, nearing retirement age, speak of mortality, with tales of it, wives of thirty years, a daughter, a friend's father to melanoma.  One of them explicates "Here Comes the Night," the old Van Morrison-Them Song.  "Here comes the night... Oh boy..."   The next day my patience seems almost saintly, but there must be something going on it, this honest late night talk with laughs over the grim.  Then maybe, is that the answer, that none of us are meant to be happy, nor content, but only through the saintly act of an understanding from another, accepting the idiot creature just as he is, even in his mood of having blown everything?    Speculations of a day.

Monday, March 28, 2016

It was up one of those long climbs, with the ridge on your right, the valley open below to your left, and just at the top, the road hewn with dynamite and tool to expose its grey layers, backing off after passing a truck, letting a car pass, I saw a hawk get out of the way from the left at the top of climb, just in time, legs dangling spread below, the bird teetering, pulling up into the wind with a few slow wing beats, the closeness.  A narrow escape, and maybe not so fortunate were the box of an eighteen-wheeler to come on through then.

Later on the road, the wind heavy, a catch of wings by the side of the road, to the right, a fan of feathers, hawk in color, red tail.  Just that.  And then another, and then even closer on the country west of Harrisburg, out of the mountain ridges, two more.  The body unseen, the feathers up, still buffeted, by the side of the road.

Coming back from mom's.  The literary life.  That one fateful semester when he taught.  His book, she was too shy to ask him to sign it, but not so, her friend Susan G.

The literary life.  That one year, brooding man from Yorkshire, coming in down the aisle, shaking the snow off his overcoat, scarf.

Five days we did things involved with bird watching.  Going down past Baldwinsville to find the right kind of bird seed.  Derby Hill, on another cold overcast day, too windy for birds to fly, then three Chinook helicopters coming up over us on their way to Fort Drum.  Montezuma Wildlife Refuge.  The placement of preserved wetlands on the migratory route.

I sleep in her library on a narrow green camping air mattress, perfectly comfortable, resting still when she comes down to make her coffee and feed the cat.  I'd forgotten to bring green tea, and made do.

Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Hazleton, Frackville, then descending down, through Harrisburg, stopping for gas and a pee, then on past Gettysburg, Roundtop visible off the right, Emmitsburg, Mount St. Mary's, then on, into Frederick, that first sweep of farmland when you rode out of DC now all gone, a long continuum of tract housing, and now they're building overpasses so that Route 15 isn't so held up for those who need to turn on to it to go to one place from another, and then on into DC in daunting rush hour, the real estate rush, the haves lined up, attending to by the higher end automobiles, the Mercedes, the BMW, the Audi, Tesla, and everyone competent at this rush and lane change, all of it boding an end to one's time living in such a competition.

The fool poet pulls up on a quiet street, unloads the rental Toyota, takes it back the rental office garage at the bottom of a hotel nearby, walks back over the bridge in the wind, and the soul, which can go only so many miles an hour, has not caught up with the numb body trying to pull away into the wind after the hunt for sustenance as cars and trucks go flying by.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

When you come home later in the night, when the town has gone to bed, you see things.  In the quiet.  Because there's not much to observe, there are the other things to notice.  After a rain, or a covering of ice, you see how the branches of the trees planted along the street reach out in circular embrace to the street lamps, each lamp an orb, each tiny tendril of branch coming from the larger forming a circle, a solar system.   Something noticed only at night, the observation lending itself to the witness of a person on a bicycle, riding home, after his shift.  In the light, the branches of trees shine when wet.  It is more dramatic when the water has frozen into a perfect covering.  But the observation is there, an obvious thing, like many things are obvious, but a thing unnoticed, not worth science, but a thing art would observe in a little piece, how perfectly circular, how orbit like, how tender the agreement, how a rooted being, a tree, would in the night under the false conditions of the city embrace the light of a street lamp and hold it as a mini-sun, a nourishing thing, and not with one selfish branch grasping straight, but with an agreement.  A mystery of the night, making perfect sense.  Trees not near any lamps unaffected.

The writer who was now nothing but a barman, a restaurant worker, a waiter, a server, a glorified lackey, a hired man, was on his way home on a yellow mountain bike with nubby tires that whirred when he drafted off the slipstream of a late night bus.    He had done all his closing duties, taking apart the Francis Francis small Illy capsule espresso machine that sat on a cutting board placed on the top of stove.  He had put the cutting boards through the dishwasher, the last glasses, the rubber bar matts, the neoprene.  He had wiped the two screens of the POS system free of fingerprints.  He tied up the trash bag, with food scraps and citrus and receipts and bread, and taken it downstairs along with the little laundry basket of spent white cloth napkins.  The kitchen was dark.  It was raining outside.  He undid the bolt of the yellow back door of the kitchen, down the metal steps with tread and lifted the lid on the garbage bin that was not already full.  He had gotten all of that done.

What is it?  Do we think sometimes that we are younger than we are?  Was it not the case that Gary Cooper was fifty years of age when he plays the Sheriff in High Noon?  Is that not one's own age, unless one is so much a Buddhist that such things don't matter.  There's the eery music, of Dmitri Tiomkin's creation, and where is the threat coming from?  The train?  The past?  Is it from globalization, the flatness of the earth, is it from the unstoppable march toward whatever is high-tech, quick, seemingly easy, is it from China, is it from one's own lazy and poor decisions of the past and a million ticks of the bad habits...  Is it the nature of money and time and wages and the need to best all that in a competitive place...  Was it a political issue, a political problem, a need to engage in the democracy...  What was it?  What had he done or not done?

And then he was home.  There was the television.  There were the dishes to do, to have enough mugs for the morning and a general sense of tidiness in the kitchen.  The little trees along the street had the sun, but they also had the street lamps.  What was that to us, the street lamp's light?  Facebook?  Some form of connection in the middle of the night, or maybe a piece on history, like how Lincoln gained the Presidency on a good history on CNN.

Friday, March 11, 2016

I have a decent job, I'm around people, but still, it's a strange gig, and it's got hours to match.  Things which I cannot explain, but which are normal for anyone having such a job.  The big problem, the being alone, the nighttime hours.

I got out for a run.  I'm good.  I do the laundry.  I take out recycling, and the trash.  And finally, maybe at some point, I get back to writing.  But it's odd, not making any sort of a living out of your chosen avocation, and on top of that it's odd, the hours, the lack of money to take yourself out to restaurants to be around people,  not feeling all that good about yourself, which doesn't contribute to the affirmations that allow dating and courtships.  The city goes on without you.

And so, you become, as Shane MacGowan describes himself, a spiritual nut, open to reading about certain subject matter, be it Zen or the Samurai, the Buddha or Mohammed, Jesus, etc., etc.

These things are strange to talk about.  A sturdy friend of mine in the form of good natured busboy from Mexico gave me a book once.  We'd had talks about the meaning of life on slow nights, and here was something from The Gnostic Institute of Anthropology Movement, The Perfect Matrimony, originally published in 1950, Cienaga, Columbia.  Don Edin, who worked with me on Sunday and Monday nights, often slow enough that we would talk, bridging the gap between languages.  "The ego is the problem," he would say to me, pointing his finger to his brow, and we would laugh knowingly and nod.  And when I came to work on a Sunday afternoon once depleted of energy, we nodded to the truth.

He was one of the many riches that came to me while tending bar and working in the restaurant.

So, something to read.  Marital sex is necessary for our chakras, for the process of our enlightenment, for the light entering the highest of our consciousness as we are equipped, the Kundalini way of thought.  It's about raising the Caduceus waves of energy centers along our spinal column and all related passages mystics identify, up to the higher points, without that, yes, heavy thing of male completion, the spilling of the seed, as this correspondent of higher thought, Samael Aun Weor, gives us.  And the relationship to the sexual is indeed most important, for society, for humanity, for everything.

You can't really think deeply unless you have your counter part, the high priest, or priestess, your match, so that negative and positive, masculine and feminine, all those energies can cycle through, not cut short by the selfish, this author wants us to know.

If you had that lovely person to put your atoms in place, then you are really following the great adepts, Jesus, the Buddha, getting all the Gospel words, the main point, which you've somehow missed before, that you've done okay, you're just missing your other half, and that is a simple matter of faith.

The Gospel accounts have veiled reference to Jesus the adept of Sexual Magic, and maybe there is hidden meaning in loaves and fishes, as, let's face it, we need to have a love life.  Like we need sustenance, sustenance for the spirit.  Being born, our problem is necessarily sexual, because that's how we came about, the great mystery we must address somehow, make meaning of, the way Christ makes meaning out of things.

Taking a long walk in the woods, sorting things out, I ponder the nature of fiction, metaphor, the story quality of religion.  I can see the guy's point, that religions need to be refreshed, brought back closer to the original, not the dead codified stories ossified over time and institutional retelling.  Sacred sexuality goes way back, in many notable cultures of the world.

I wanted to write another book, this time with a happier ending, with more focus, with moral achievements grasped by the main character, of, of course, the guy finding a girl, and all that love is.  Family.  Something different.

Does one start that path by writing "fiction?"

On the way back from a long walk in the woods, I stand in front of the mosque.  The men are filing in for evening prayer.  I stop and stand in the place outside the fence where you can see in when one of the double wooden doors beyond the stoop where shoes are taken off, catching a glimpse of the tile and the shine.  "Come in, yes," a man with a small beard.  "My name is Abdi, what's your name, please..."  No big deal, take off my running shoes, put them in the slots, and there's a space for visitors, two chairs in the back.  A row of men facing the far wall where the Imam is speaking.   They bow, and then they kneel, and bow forward, heads touching the ground.  I find it refreshing, looking at the tiles, listening, watching.  I am relieved when it shows signs of breaking up, and Abdi comes back and offers that it's time to go and he has a book for me in his car.   I put my sneakers back on, and we walk out, and there's no hard sell, and we all go off into the night, many to drive the cabs.

Later on, waking up in the middle of the night I watch a documentary about heavy metal bands.  (Penelope Sheeris), Megadeath, Ozzie, Odin, Queensryche, Armored Saint, Motorhead...  Candid interviews including all the excesses up close...  The Metal Years, 1988.  For contrast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It felt like a bit of a stretch, but I get up on Monday mornings anyway and walk down into the town to see my therapist.  The alarm goes off.  I rise, have a cup of tea, today, same socks, same tee shirt as when I got in from my shift last night.  I throw on a button up shirt and a sweater, find my wallet, checkbook, into the courier bag along with a notebook with a worksheet I didn't get too far on.  Down to the office building, in through check-in at the front desk and up in the elevator to the second floor.  Downtown people are dressed professionally.  It's a little early for me.  "I started back up when my father died," the conversation of the security people at the reception desk, about smoking.  Yeah, go easy on yourself, I say inside my head.  Wine's better for you.

And so my therapist, Dr. H., comes out to the area in front of the virtual office reception desk, a meeting room with a long table looking out over Connecticut Avenue behind glass.  The internet is down, word spreads, and as I walk down the hallway, she tells me there was a fire alarm this morning at 9 AM, and the person will have to come back later for his session.

I plop down into the soft chair, pour myself a plastic dixie cup for water from the pitcher, brush up my nose with a tissue, and what are we going to talk about today.

Well, I think I made the right call, watching the literary fest speakers, live stream, on my laptop.  And one of the writers, a Michael Chabon did an interesting thing which was to dissect a work he called a failure and he had a good take on failure as being an honest thing, a realistic way, where as, big moment of triumph, you know, victory, that's just an isolated temporary moment sort of a thing...  He went through these footnotes over what he'd written, about word choices, about using a dog to look sensitive...

And in the meanwhile, this week I gave out a few copies of my book, and one was a gal who'd down a poetry MFA up at AU, but would that be worth $100, 000...

In the q and a, he was asked, is 'write what you know,' good advice?  Well, no.  None of us are all that interesting.  One book, maybe two.  But then you're pushing it.   There's the danger.  You need to go beyond your own knowledge, to know more.  He gave an example of a New York writer, whose later work benefited from tagging along with policemen...

But those literary people, there's kind of exclusivity about them...  They belong, and you don't.  They have that MFA brand of writing, a club, a kind of Ponzi scheme as one poet guy once told me, with the literary journals, and I dunno, I guess I just get sensitive to that kind of ostracizing impulse in people.  I wrote my book, it was the book I wanted to write, more or less, and it's good.  I mean, it's not workshop perfect, but like Pani Korbonska said, you're a writer.  Don't need to go to school for it. I mean, it buys you time, gives you a few shortcuts, makes you apply yourself, and the dude said good things about workshop support holding you up when, like, go off on tangents, or fuck it up stylistically...  And those, the MFA sort of stories, they are clever, and they sort of mine unlikely or outrageous things often enough, I don't know, just something...    You know...  I mean, take poor old Kerouac, he just wrote.  I mean, he had a lot of literary friends, he wrote a lot of letters, they talked about books, real literary people...

I mused aloud about the shape, of music meets writing meets wine and waiting on people.  I mentioned putting up some of my musical attempts up on Facebook, like that Morrissey song Everyday is Like Sunday, or, the sort of Irish music I like, the Pogues, and my brother shoots me a message, take it down you look like a blithering idiot, you're fifty, grow up...

DC has come a long way being a culturally diverse town, she says.  Yes.  Thank you.  And there's a sort of a tradition, writers play music, musicians write, and you know delve into spiritual matters...  (I don't elaborate on Shane MacGowan for her, maybe some other time.)  Joyce, a fine tenor, pops through the mind.  And I tell her I'm reading a book my dad gave me about The Perennial Philosophy, the great Tradition that all people and all times come up with as spiritual wisdom, but it's a bit too much a history of ideas when you kind of want, well, just what is this Spiritual Wisdom, that's in the Upanishads and the Gitas, and Buddha and Islam and the Gospels...

I guess even a bartender could come up with such a thing if that is so.  Like the guy who tells me every so often to write A Bartender's Guide to Sanity...

My voice is dry, and I take in more water.

I don't tell her so, but it's kind of like paying to have a girlfriend for 45 minutes once a week, or for some feminine kindness.

And you wonder, where does the bad voice come from, the low self esteem, the negative feelings...

Then again, it would be nice to get into an MFA program...  It would be nice to be around people reading books.  But, but but but.

The next day, tired.   I softly do my yoga before work.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I am not one for literary pretension.   That holds me back, in some ways, but that's how it goes.  I'd still rather write the way I write.   The way I conceive the process, the following of what I think is worth writing about.

I go for a walk in the woods, on the dirt trail by the stream.  Attempting to absorb a few things, the events of a Literary Fest, viewed on line, from Amherst College.  I'd like to belong, but...

Longer days, more light.  Warmer.  I stop in a park, pull out a notepad, but there is not much to write, merely the self-belief, which happens in cold parks with dogs playing, a picnic table up on a hill, a sunset over Georgetown's ridges.  And then back to avenue, crossing crosswalks, for wine, for groceries.

The book I wrote, to anyone who's been through the current MFA style of writing, I know it has a few spots...  And to my ear many of the MFA writers sound the same, the same bemusement...

But to me, the diagnosis the book offers, I see a lot of it, the modern disease.  The studied professional coldness, the competitive nature...  Does it come from keeping up with technology...  A smug exclusive belonging, one that leaves old literary types behind.  Adepts of Tindr and other apps.

What?  Questioning is heresy.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Yeah, I guess I just get bored shitless sometimes.

There's only so far your own story and that which you know goes.  True.  If you're talking about writing.

When I want to write I get morbidly shy.  Perhaps it's because I'm a skinny person, weighing around 150 pounds, that it might be natural to be careful around other human beings.  Lessen the threat.  Avoid complication.  Skinny people need time with their thoughts.  There's lots of times when I want to write, too.

About this same time a couple of observations came home.  I think it was listening to our matron French waitress describe the selfishness of an important Georgetown customer--I had impressions of my own about her, waiting on her, like, once, demanding a glass of rose from out of the blue--that led me to finally realize how maybe it wasn't  bad thing, this not hooking up with the girl of your dreams back in college.  I mean, not that my friend was typical, but, you know, not that far away from the typical paragon...  No one's fault, that.

Yeah, that kind of a thing...  Harshness, it stood out more and more, and when I met young ladies from other parts of the world, from other cultures, I felt strangely appreciated.  A sort of bridegroom, rather than a deviant.  God bless Mexico and South America.  Or for that matter, old Polish ladies, god rest their souls.  I mean, I could always talk to anybody.  Because I liked them. Because I could understand them immediately, when they looked you in the eye and started talking.

And I had absorbed the harshness, as if that was simply the way life was, that whatever good you were attempting would end up obscure, unacknowledged, misinterpreted, and maybe that's why I'd gone into the restaurant business, from a generosity of spirit that was used to little reward.  I absorbed it into my psyche, but that was also the seeds of rebelling from it.  Like, 'you know what, fuck you.'

I mean, I know I, or rather it makes sense now, felt the need to get away from certain elements of the Amherst experience, like I wanted to get back to real people...  The grounds crew chapter of A Hero For Our Time...

But sure, you get tired of the same material or lack thereof.  The same habit, the same work.  You still have to write, but the weather is cold and dank, the night dark and windy, and the only reason I went out was to go get wine, down and back, not stopping in the bookstore.  And what can I write about, how can I make up a world of fiction to research and explore, in order to, as Chabon says, know more...

One of our better writers, I corresponded with him briefly, he's a big cheese.  He liked Washington, DC, good town, everyone striving, but in the end he knows he needs something.  Vice.  That's why New York's a better place.  He's an Irish guy anyway, what would you expect.  He took the trouble to tell me that.  We'd been to a Pogues concert in Northampton a long time ago.  I was asking him what he remembered, and it led to a brief exchange....

That was thirty years ago.   Imagine.

But the tediousness of not having any vices, that stays with me.  The sheer boredom of it.  The excesses toward the material, rather than the spiritual and the creative...  Judgment always following upon that choice...

Green chamois shirt from Beans, Dickies I wore through the winter.

The writer wants the time to write, it's how he does his work, achieves that which makes him proud, but when you're out of material, it can get weird.  The people who get MFAs in creative writing, they read a lot.  The workshop...  Things for people who write fiction.  Maybe that's where you find something, when you're feeling that adrift feeling.  Go back to your roots.  Relax.  Even if it is DC.  DC, you know, it had to have its rebellious elements, the Punks, Bluegrass music, Marion Barry...  African Americans aren't the only ones who want to sort of change things, or open up...

I guess that's why I like sleep, because inevitably, you dream.  You dream, you get back to your music, your roots...

What catches your eye?
It takes a writer to understand the shyness.  And throw on top of that a job on a stage.  So when the day off arrives, it's strange territory.  You observe nature.  Birds.  Plants.  The way low juniper and heather type plants reach like coral to the sun.  Shuffle through the city street, across an avenue, into a Rite Aid where the homeless man outside the door with a colorful beard is good at asking.   The basic need of food, animal protein, to take back to the lair and cook.

The reclusiveness.  Roast a chicken, for the vitamins in the juices that come out of it into the iron pan.  Take a nap.  Take out the recycling, plastic bags, plastic meat wrappers, wine bottles, chicken stock quart containers and their lids, juice bottles, finally the big green Cascade dishwasher detergent bottle, of which there wasn't maybe quite enough, but it was good to run the dishes through, when usually you just do them by hand and let the machine be a drying rack for your tea cups.

Another writer understands the project.  In public they'll appear not so crazy, and banter with the rest. But I would give credit, more credit, to the writer who is true to the craziness.  Less the words, more the true person.  Which to me is where musicians come in.  Or athletes.  Or someone who combines all three into a sustained performances, the bristling words of mountain climber energy, the restraint of them, all the energy, of lifetimes and all life's thoughts, captured, reined in for a moment but with respect.  I'd give credit to the writer with the guts to stand before people.  I wrote a book.  That's good enough.  And then I served a lot of people. With my own two hands, and with my ears, my eyes, all my senses, didn't talk too much.   And when I was done with the week I, yes, took up the surfboard of writing, and hoped there were waves.

The waves, taking out the trash.  A dusting of snow.  The parting of the laundry.  Watching an important literary fest run by women, better at its exchanges, its work, its partnerships, its application.  Whereas I sit in my cave.

But through the mountain top, the words, there is what must be connection, deep form.  Through the quiet solitary work something that speaks, better than the fancy cocktail to imbibe.

I don't know what.  I don't know how to say it.  People try.  They fall short.  Social interactions fall short.  But writing is monkishness.  Intimacy one sided, waiting to be read.  Honesty.

The Lit Fest.

A private venue, that's what you need...

Then Michael Chabon on literary failure and other things...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sketch from previous summer, August 2015

It can take a long time to find your voice.  A long time to tune it in.

I went for a walk up Massachusetts Avenue after my week had ended.  I'd gotten up late, and soon it was dusk.

I see coming toward me three pretty young Russian girls walking abreast, holding hands, walking slowly, meditatively.  Like ghosts.  I'd seen two of them just the day before as I was going into the restaurant, very pretty, slender, long limbed, graceful.  Jaw-dropping, their combined beauty, still colt-like.  One with freckles.  Two at least, sisters, maybe all three.  I turn, after watching them walk away, with the same steady slowness.  Eventually, I decide my walk is not done yet, and so I follow them from a long distance, just to make sure that they are Russian, and I find, yes, that's exactly where they go.

Later I find a newspaper kiosk box with my the local paper, my little article within.  I am in print.  Seeing something in print is a different experience than seeing it on-line.

I have a hard time conforming.  I do not deal with convention well.  I really don't.  I have to look deeper at things.  I cannot just fall in, even if it would do me good.  Like Gary Cooper says, "I can't do it."  (when Lloyd Bridges, the sheriff in waiting, wants him to go, to make himself look better, though he won't stand up against the bad guys.)

The thought of the Calypso is reassuring, a totem of sanity toward the natural world.  A voyage, a creative venture.  Sailing is always that.  Life is always that.

And for me, there was no other way to do it, to instinctively follow the need to write, but to work that job.  The world is not always kind to strangers, can push away a loner.

So I tried a little foray into Sicilian wines.  And I must confess, the frappato was too fruity, and other was like a new world wine.  Does everyone like the unsubtle fruit bomb vanilla mocha spice frappucino kind of wines, even Charles?  He did enjoy a sip of that St. Joseph a bit too much.  Too big for me, not lean enough, not light enough.

I was happy to return to French wine to tell you the truth.