Friday, August 19, 2016

That year, my mistake original, choosing to live my senior year not with my friends down on the campus, five minutes walking distance to the dining hall, the library and all the buildings where there were classrooms, but up on the hill above the Dickinson houses, overlooking the town and the spire of the town hall.  It was a mistake made out of a romantic impulse, the vision of a poet's privacy, detachment.  The old DKE frat house, the parlor to the left, perhaps once a dining room with Sir Isaac Newtown's fireplace, by the time I came back from summer, had been renovated anyway, losing its old fixtures, its quirky lines of charm, the open staircases, glassed in with safety glass crisscrossed with its fibers, and there I was, isolated, in the back of the buildings, and I see now how that isolation effected a lot of things.  Without the feedback, the encouragement, the physical proximity of my buddies, Randy, Jon, Jeffrey, Spike, Steve, a fair hike between me and them, without one's friends, shut-down mode is a lot easier to slip into.  Even the poet, as much as anyone, maybe more, needs friends and social interactions, and even if one fancies he might be good at that time alone to write, that alone time quickly sours, and this is just simply human nature.

That choice became a radiant jewel of mistakes, that extra step of isolation, of removal, up to the end after I brought her flowers the second year in a row at the end of classes, and after her initial rejection stayed up on my hill rather than go down for dinner that Saturday night in the dining hall, when she had warmed to me again, but my bitterness had taken over like the wish for a long nap.

For city people, that general underestimation of social need, is less common than it is for a kid who grew up in the country, on country roads, with distance sports and long landscapes.  But I fell into it, and such a shyness toward groups and crowds, is not good for the starting of careers.  After going back home, sad, I finally went off on my own, down to the city, not her city, but Washington, DC, and ended up in the restaurant business, attempting to correct my propensity for isolation.  Always a group, friends to talk to.  I was a barman, on good terms with a good array of people, which was more a reflection of who I was, gifted at gab and smiles and kind ear, than that conceit of being the writer in command of the Shakespearean panoply of the human condition.  I came home at the end of the night alone, without a personal life to speak of, unachieved.  For all that talk and exchange, washing up on the shore of One AM, with a few hours left to calm the blood and unwind toward sleep, to wake looking back at that spot where I did not continue to grow as I should have, with lots of possible jobs to think of without having the energy to have ever tried.

The artistic temperament is best put to use harnessed in social activity, actors meeting writers and producers over the activity of a stage, the thing that fired Shakespeare's great effort, the players, people to socialize with in order to bring out one's truer agendas.

And yet, some are born observers, fond of, like Joseph Mitchell was, walking the streets of the city day and night, collecting stories and senses and observations made of watching people.  Going to a Mass without knowing exactly why or with proper understanding of the customs and words and actions of a Mass.  (See his "Street Life," in The New Yorker, an excerpt from his unpublished memoir, November 11&18, 2013 issue.)  The courtly writer who mixes well with odd people, but, being so original a swath of humanity that he is an odd duck, neither this nor that, not a banker, not even a reporter anymore, but a slow burning teller of humanity's story.  Able to do so out of a strange coincidence, that he too is finally human, longing for the same gentle conversations of smiling engagement and chuckles of laughter and common purpose that the Hispanic wait staff and busboys have with each other in Spanish, leaving the writer barman excluded as he sets up for a night.

Each step is hard in life, the security blanket being that tradition of a wandering writer telling an amorphous story of disparate detail.  There is, certainly, that pull, for a country boy at least, to spend that time with the deeper mind, with words, with the facets of the natural world such as birds and trees and the shining of the moon and the pull of rivers, that are, to the poetic mind, a relative of the deeper mind in the context of the globe we all live upon, as some see it, a great connected system which is itself a being, a living thing, of mind and response, of health and illness too.

A writer's mother feels that loneliness and isolation too, and knew she needed to do something to get out of it.  She took out a lot of student loans, got a Ph.D., and became a writer, one with that good base of the classroom and of the community a university a campus allows.  A good transition to make.

And she will be happy when I tell her, how with the rest of my day, I found a view of the river I'd not appreciated before.  And I had a sense of great relief, being relieved of that thought of the necessity of an urban social life such as always eats at us, turning back to nature and that older story of the city and the river that gave life to it as an infant town, the river still there, on its own terms, with herons by its muddy banks where its waters run slower than the rapids above and the currents below.

No comments: