Thursday, January 5, 2017

"But the writer is a waiter.  That's how he does his work.  He's always waiting, like a fisherman gently holding a line, pulling it in slowly, slowly.  But this waiting, this is what other people, going at city pace, just might not get.  And with a mind toward fitting in to that economic part of the world, the world of grown-ups and responsibilities, well, their instinct, understandably is self-preservation and on those terms obvious and all about you, like real estate signs, how much does that house cost...

"He's quite an anomaly to the economy burning away, possessions, energy concerns, the next best product thing for productivity's sake.  He's an idiot, and he acts like it too...  invested in archaic practices, archaic jobs, the strange holding power of crafted objects, little figurines even, all very ancient, the pull.  Writers can easily be packrats, crows, like Hemingway.  Wooden objects give them a strange sort of high.  It is all art to him, all of it, to be marveled at, as if all of it were singing its own unique song to him, a knob, the build of a guitar amplifier, the old Polish lady's stone or ironware casserole painted just so, bygone eras, Stonehenges.   No wonder I find myself making little rings of cork to mimic the Paleolithic deep into the night, as they hold a fascination placed just so, balanced horizontally on vertical cork on top the slate bar top.  Writing, for Hemingway, the physical reenactment, the trout steady in the stream below above the pebbly bottom, riffs like that.

"People won't always get that time-lag, that netherworldly focus as the artist silently ponders or moves his body in relationship to a tree or something, or stops to admire the stones laid at an old portico.

"No wonder he'd feel odd being out and about, in a place where the furnishings are minimal, more people than objects, unless that too is cause for reverie as often it certainly is.  People are louder than objects, than bits and pieces of the natural world.  But even the most famous of bar-goers, Hemingway, had an obvious fascination for driftwood, pieces holding his attention rapt for hours on end, such that he studied them by slowly burning them in the fireplaces he documented, watching them change their colors, or squeezing orange peel's oil onto a decent warming fire in a Paris loft.

"A lot of this I would attribute to blood type O, on intuition, but perhaps that's neither here nor there in how a writer's built.

"But the waiting...  'you spent five hours doing what?'

"Well, it taketh that long.  You're slowly getting to the old magic of something, something forgotten, like the way the snow shawls the trees in Joyce's story.  Doesn't make the news, quite.  But shine the light on it and that event speaks in a deeper archaic language, hitting us just so, directly.

"Therefore you're able to turn around that negative take, 'there's the poor waiter guy slowly hunching over year after year waiting to live his life even as it passes him by in speeding amounts...'  Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, you'll find early on a tribute to the profession, something like the good waiter observing as if from a distant tower, unobtrusively, he means...  Maybe the waiter is, subliminally, born into the things of writing, writing as writing is and will always be.  Respect for an honest profession, work itself.  Maybe there is a natural symbiosis.  Hemingway celebrated his guys...

If you can see it, hard as that might be some days, to see it as a respectful profession, then it's easier on you.

There is a strange connection, a mirroring, to the two lines of work, the barman setting up the bar, allowing the conversations of the evening to come forth, waiting it all out, and the writer who gets up, makes his tea, sits down to write however he does for however long he might have with whatever he feels he has to explore or say or write about or pursue emotional truth over.  And if you were to understand that innate naturally occurring balance, then you're more content to rest at the calm center point.  Both are nervous jobs, encountering familiar and strange.
A writer with no credentials, no track record, no attributable sign of popular success.   Okay, give him some credit for attempting old school literature, a book written for good reasons, 'an ambitious attempt undermined by' faults such as leaving scenes and characters opaque, too many comings and goings, repetition, whatever other lackings in narrative arch and psychological through-lines, etc., etc., as the Kirkus Indie Review has it.  The cold critique of writer workshops intended to train the juvenile, the amateur hobbyist.

There are piles of notebooks about, legal pads, of unreadable drivel, notes, the great pile of words going nowhere that are a part of an amateur writer's attempt to get started, to write on a daily basis, to keep a notepad, much of it expressing frustrations of his own making.

The work of tending bar leaves the mind wobbly and unclear, reeling still from all the brain absorbed in the rushed evening, conversations broken up into bite-sized exchanges over say a two hour period. Followed by the effort to pull back together and do the last things of closing duties.  Through the evening brief conversation with people you've known a long time, friends, but no time to sit-down and really talk.  The musicians have serious day jobs to get back to.  A few linger, talking about music and gigs, and the waitress's man comes up to visit and they sit at the bar and have a splash of bubbly.  It's the anniversary of her mother's passing, and M.R. tells the story, influenced by her knowledge of healing energy.  It's been a long time since they've sat for a chat, and the New Year will allow for such things.  J.M. shares a few stories of living in Knightsbridge, the fog, a night spent in the park hiding from the bobbies before he could to go the bank in the morning, with our Englishman friend.   For M.R., a practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu, it is significant what the doctor said:  Her heart just stopped, (and that was it.)  There are good people come to this place, this little bar, tucked away upstairs in some woody corner, not too travelled, in the city of Washington, DC.  Interesting things can be allowed to happen, and often later in the evening.

At the end of the night, around 1:30 in the morning, I bundled up and walked out in the 32 degree air up to the Safeway for some supplies and a birthday card for the niece.   The gentleman at the checkout, aisle seven, knows my habits.  Walking out with my bag, "it's chilly out," and he ask if it feels like its going to snow yet, "you know that feeling," and I say, "close."  Then back to the restaurant's door, pack the groceries into the courier bag and out the door on the yellow bike.  There are dirty tea cups on the counter when I come back, in contrast to the clean organized bar I left, but without washing anything I go straight to bed and sleep decently, haunted by a few restaurant dreams as the mind stirs toward waking.

Coming back from taking mom home up North.  Scheduled to work on New Years Eve, having gotten excused from the night before I was also scheduled to do, wary of the weather, I got on the road early, not after stopping to take a picture from the gas station of a winter sky and town covered with snow with its own beauty, inconvenient, sure, but there for sure.  Driving down, first along the wide river, the water high on its banks, enveloping tree, through Fulton, then the road bigger, a palpable nostalgia for this country, the light, the cold blown snow in the fields and the wood, driving, driving, down onto the bigger highway, 81, and navigating through Syracuse on overpasses, then past the Onondaga land and into the hills, the ridges, the flats parallel with farming valleys, the barns perched up on hills with roads that interest me.  There's the usual rest stop with the pretty view, but I push on, not stopping, and then I see the text from the boss, now three plus hours into a seven plus hour drive, I don't need to come in tonight.  I'm just through Scranton.  I call my mom from the next rest stop, but she tells me to push on, get back and get reorganized after the holidays.  There are a few things to take care of, certainly.

Perhaps there are times in life when it seems no decision we make is all that a good one.  Practicality and the sense of obscure obligations weigh against what the heart tells us, what kindness tells us, what loves tells us, even as we sense ourselves imprisoned in ways by previous choices having worn their ruts underneath our souls, the ruts of repetition, closing us down to something when who are we anyway, but creatures of better more refined intentions, civilizing desires of bookish sort.  A sorrow comes in and stays.

Yes, there was the writer doing his noble thing, puzzling the spiritual at life's edges, a few passages here and there, but those are largely memories now.  What do you do when you are unrecognized in your field?   But that's just the way the market is, what people will spend money for, some sort of pleasure, some form of learning, new material that expands a reader's sense of life where one's own work just leads back to navel-staring introspection.  There are hopeful signs now and then, a success to bolster one now and then, the lasting place of Philip Larkin, the recent recognition of Knausgaard My Struggle series.

But there are things we do not know, beyond science so far claims to know, and there will always be that.  And the writer catches these little puzzling things in his web, and they are of an ancient sort, of the kind the Elizabethans, to our current eyes, were open to, more than we are, skeptical rationalists that we have become, and Shakespeare even leaves his tribute to that in his crowning work of Hamlet, having paid the bills writing the histories and so forth.  That little bit about Horatio and there being more to the world than in his physic.  And even to hint at such things, prompts one's own prose to elevate a bit, reach a kind of better groove.  All the fantastic electricity of swirling bright particles beneath what is visible to the eye, cause for the greatest affections and love itself and, of course, life.  These are the mysteries, impalpable, the writer is ultimately after, knowing them deeper in a meditative mind's eye.  And it is the science of the time, in the sense of that science being cold and rational and only of clear cut lines, that can, if in the hands of the wrong kind of educational atmosphere, put a discouraging atmosphere over the brightness of the mind and its intuitive grasp.

(The things the writer catches can be easily taken as trivial, of little import, childish, by the fact-driven eye, engrossed in hard-thought interpretations, the dire issues, the world economy of technology, economic might, military capability, set minds opposed to each other.  And you might say that the truth is a way to make sense of the things of the current affairs eludes the realists too.)

Does the imaginative mind get so well the seeming responsible efforts to live beyond the current moment?   Are we made of cold plans for the future, actions meted out carefully, judiciously?  Or rather do we respond as we do, out into the woods, into the natural world, into the beauty of engaging with fellow life.

"You didn't plan.  You didn't get your paper in on time.  This is the only time you have to make the choice placed before you, so act wisely because there are things at stake."

But all that is foreign.  And there is the educator, sitting quietly, remembering, not obsessing, sharing experience, the contrasts the world falls into of cold dark weighed known things of agreed upon standards and the light of life and creativity.

Of course Hamlet falls, being the creature of sensitivity and possibility, as he is set against the cold rationalist professionals.  But the real mind of the human being, a beautiful thing, is still out there, still at work, still capable, still of deeper insight.  And knowing the processes of writing will lead naturally to that, even as the window of the time's imaginative range in limited as far as its popular appearances.

Always old school, you can't get the better work done without acknowledging the methods of the ancients.  Peace of mind, and John Donne, will lead you there.

That was my father's gentle embracing mode of botany, his wide science expansive, ancient, modern enough, the influence of his mentor, Dr. Torrey.

Old books will always be a comfort, even those kept by idiots.

Writing's a different mode than talking, less susceptible to being dumbed down and narrow minded.

You have to write to find out what you really have to say and think.

My friends, they called me Beast back then in college, Medieval Doctor.  Maybe it's not so wrong where I've ended up, as all the world's a stage.  How would one know what one is doing anyway, in this world, defined so such as it is, largely its own self-creation, a work of PR and canny marketing, an eye toward wealth and profit and pay-offs.

Any outside thing can take your mind from its path into exploration of the territory it seeketh.  The words of a song, ads on TV, responding to a text...  That a natural born writer might put up a bit of a shell, particularly as being seen in contrast to the behavior of other people.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

One day back at work, walking there, up the avenue past the embassies and the mosque, over the bridge and down into the woods where it is quiet and the air is different.  I get in the door, just a few minutes early, and the waitress downstairs as soon as I walk in says, as she always does, here, take the phone, it's you and Martin tonight, and Hugo (the busser.)  The restaurant has been closed since New Years Eve, and I find the bar a bit of a mess and not restocked at all well.  The low tables are askew.  Some haven't been wiped off.  Are there silverware set-ups in the drawers?   I get a slight cut from the foil from the new Macon chardonnay on my thumb.  And then reaching to restock the Kronenbourg I get a paper cut on my right thumb from the six pack holder.  The phone rings, I answer.  Hugo gathers I need help as he arrives with two buckets of ice.  I'm stressed out a bit, yes.  Latex food handling gloves extra large size are down in the kitchen, though not easy to work with.  Cats hate anything placed over their paws by mischievous schoolboys.

I look into the cooler again, nope, not enough champagne, not enough mineral water.    The downstairs guy finally comes a few minutes before opening.  He worked the bar on New Years Eve.  Later I mention the lack of restocking to the boss in passing, and he reminds me he had to do inventory at the end of the month.  Hugo helps me out earlier by putting the bottles I put out on the cellar stairs, Sancerre, Champagne, Bordeaux, in a big bucket, as I load up a milk crate with soda and tonic, lemons and limes, a few Rosé, beer, a few towels.  Lug lug lug.

The night progresses, busy at happy hour, the hairdresser at the door wanting her glass of wine right when the door opens, and I've barely tied my tie, people to welcome back to town, the boss sits down for dinner, and right before nine a familiar gentleman comes in, and the boss nods, of course we will serve them.  Reinforcements are coming, one the French guy who finally got his visa approved, and another guy who's gone through hotel school back in Switzerland and how has real experience tending bar.

The late trio tells me stories of eating at classic places on a trip to New Orleans, and of a visit over to Lafayette, a famous humble place where they serve chili dogs, chitlins, boudin, basically a gas station.  They are enjoying the Beaujolais, and I pour them a sip of the 2016 Nouveau.  They leave without taking dessert or coffee, and the couple in the corner, having savored their second round of Gran Marnier in snifters, they depart too.  And then I am alone.  I've ordered a couple of appetizers, rushed, not really thinking, not wanting to push the kitchen at closing time.

I have some Beaujolais as I clean up, a bit here, a bit there.  There's no one to talk to.  The two are cleaning the kitchen, pushing water all over the floor, and I get them a soda for the lady, a healthy glass of red for the guy.  Thank you, they say.  Do my checkout, count the money, wipe off glasses from the machine, like I've been doing all night, and finally, wipe the bar clean.

The wine professional must be careful.  Nutrition is very important.  Stress and anxiety are to be avoided.

At the end of the night, turning off the lights, setting the alarm, my courier bag slung over my shoulder, I lock the door and cross the street.  I'm on foot tonight, and past midnight, feeling a little bit lonely, wanting to be around people.  I walk up the hill to the basement bar.  They have a decent French pinot by the glass, that with a soda water and I take out my notepad and write, because that's what I aim to do these days.

The next day, tired, the familiar feeling, a bit, I don't know, shaky, voice dry, etc.  I am the sick man, the ill man once again.  No spring chicken.  I revive quick enough, green tea, a little dandelion root tea, a decent homemade meat ragu I'll eat without spaghetti to reheat, then I will shower and shave, take a vitamin,  and get ready to go to work again, and feeling ready, fine.  The guilt of not having done much with the day, and already back to a familiar routine, much as I participate in bringing relaxation to the guests, but you need your sleep, such a job.  Reinforcements, professionals, are coming.

The shower, the yoga, a bit of self-honesty, such as comes through writing, which includes its risks of the confessional, does one a bit of good.  And I could wonder now, what have I done with these years, but nervously wasted them, not teaching children, not having much to do with the fields of reading and books.  But this is why writing is good, healthy, as is seeing the therapist.

Better if I'd been a sort of Kerouac bum, living with his mum..

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

So what does exile look like, the doctor might ask.

Writers should not be at a loss to tell you what they are going through.  Dostoevksy's opening line, Notes From Underground, what is it, I am a sick man...  I think my liver hurts...  something like that.  I look up at her, not always facing her directly as I sit in my chair.

Yes, perhaps you do have look on with some bitterness upon your situation, upon the suffering inflicted upon you for upholding your own attempt at honorable standards, at the education professionals who missed something in your student behavior, in my case, the getting in papers late.  First paper on John Donne, a little bit late, but well-written, an A minus.  And then, at the end of the course, Paradise Lost.  Something was going on... Do you kick the kid when he's down, or do you try to help him back in?  The sad and the sensitive, what do you do with them, in this world where everyone has to fight like the kid raised in the city to get what he wants from people.  As opposed to the old model of the gentleman, whatever that bygone person is...

Then there were your own sweet archaic countryside manner of courtship, different from the glib of popular romance sit-com emphasis on sex.  Again, the misunderstanding of 'lateness,' of 'taking your time.'  A relationship is a momentous decision.  I know girls just want to have fun, but any reader of poetry and literature, it's more complicated than that, long term.

I was depressed when I came here.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  Nothing felt right about it. New York was the city of the Princess, but I had moped on like a funeral train down along the route to Washington.  Where I could only be, act, appear, as a commoner.  I mean, not a striving Capitol Hill type, much as I wanted to be.  I became a busboy, because it kept me moving, kept me around people.  Opening the door to being a sorry night shift kind of person.  I wrote by day, tried to.  It was a rough time.

If you know you are in exile, does that help you get out of it, see a way out of it?

The prologue of Dead House, Dostoevsky's little sketch of this narrator who had survived the penal colony, a third person's account of the odd bird whose candle burns at night, whose main human contact, given his nerves, is the girl he tutors.  And he himself would write at night, we know, from historical accounts.  The the Russian reading public, his suffering gave him credential.  Exile to a prison camp nothing to laugh at.  People would have wanted a portrait of him, like the one you see on book covers, at least two coming to mind.   And the self-portrait is never alien to his works, from what I can tell, The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov.  His perspective.

But what is our general perspective now, as a culture, a fast moving popular culture, of economic competition, technology and energy sources our salvation, quicker words, exhausting environmental resources...  Who now do we praise, but those who are pretty enough to compete.

The artist, the writer of spiritual dimension and assessment of humanity, nears extinction in the mind's eye now, to the extent that he can offer much to us as insight.  He is left regarded as a creature, an exotic creation of nature who bears upon little but the obscure environment of the nature he comes from, nature kept at arms distance, impractical, irrelevant, encroached upon for its lack of importance stacked up against the importance of human activity.

See, it all fits together.  I took a sip of water from the pitcher of filtered water on the little table easily reached from the comfy arm chair.  I would always take the little plastic cup I used with me, bringing it home, cleaning it with the tea cups and the sharp knives, stacking them when they were dry.  Once she commented that the one I'd apparently brought back and forth several times, about to crack, pulled out of my courier bag had gotten enough use.  We had talked about how little either of use could personally do about the melting polar ice caps.

But depression haunts exiles, though they try to be healthy about it all, get their walks in, eat right, don't drink too much, try to get some daylight in.  The sense of being alone, few other exiles to talk to.  Few others considerate enough.  Other people, even sensitive ones, use you as their sort of plaything, and they too derive benefit from your stoic good cheer, that odd hospitality that comes from gloom, the easy good humor, the general understanding of the human condition's pain beamed out over a blank room and blank people who go about their business of functioning in the modern world, economic units, hard workers.  They don't know the terror of going in to such work to face them when out of practice.  The demoralizing quality of work from which one finds uplift in the little offerings of kindness, polite appreciation.

Well, the restaurant business...  it seemed for a long time as some sort of social life, the presence of other people worthy of some respect.

A wiser person would have never allowed themselves to get into such a situation.  No wonder, the exile, in need of rehabilitation, would seek the soothing of wine at the end of the night.  We are built the way we are, biologically, and as we age can appreciate that more and more, the things that work for us, the things to avoid, even if such rules seem in large contrast to the mainstream.

The time grew to a close, said the little white clock with little black hands, I wrote a check, said, thank you, gathered my coat, hat and scarf and traipsed slowly up the hallway, past the lobby as I sipped from the plastic Dixie Cup, to use the mens room, then back down the closer stairwell.  Her door was open still, as I glanced briefly.

I wondered what had prompted my little talk of exile, of assessing the general tale of the book I'd written previously.  Who had made me a writer, what right did I have, or particular talent, beyond some apparent physiological need for the activity of sitting down, perhaps to quell the great anxieties that come to us when we are not put to work at something, too much time on our hands while honest people work with goals and money in mind, forget being a do-gooder, an artist, a humanitarian, a citizen of the world and the planet and the universes and time itself.

Often I was very hungry, and there was a little NY Gyro Stand across Connecticut Avenue with Hallal Lamb, either in pita or on salad.

Caffeine, though necessary to move up out of bed in the morning before work, and to get to work, I can barely handle anymore, making me too nervous.

Monday, January 2, 2017

It marks the end of the holidays, a holiday staff luncheon downtown at a Brazilian steak house.  I come from seeing my therapist, walking down from Metro Center on a day cold and rainy, my hood pulled over my head covered in a winter cap.  Reluctant, not in the mood for it, but I show up, wondering the fate that has thrown me in with this group.  In the end I use the john upstairs and depart alone, feeling the usual urge to walk a street over to enter Ford's Theater, The Lincoln Museum and visit with small bed in the boarding house where he died.  This year, I find myself walking briefly through the H & M on the way to the Metro.  A very neat young man from a Christian organization is looking through work slacks.  I wander through, detached, in no need of cheap style, disposable clothes, black, white, pink, gold, glitter, back out into the grey rainy street.

Earlier, a holiday quiet about the town, Dr. H. comes down from the second floor of the office building, as the foyer is dark, to open the outer door with her data card, and I follow behind her up the stairwell.

If the first book is about the creation of exile, of being made a deviant tacitly, then the next book must be about redemption.  In Joseph Campbell terms, the hero leaves the village and goes out into the wilds.  Out there, the hero learns something, endures trials, and then one day, the fates allow him to come back.  Literature, spiritual and otherwise, is full of exile, Jonah and Job, a whole people.

I tell the doctor about Dostoevsky, Notes From The Dead House, the camp he's sent off to for having the wrong friends.  He disguises the fact he is a political prisoner, a good forward to the book will tell you, to get past the censor.  He observes people and things in this penal colony, and one of his thoughts he writes is that it is often the most gifted and talented men you'll find in such a place.

It's a long day by the time I come up the metro escalator back in the old neighborhood.  I look in the window of the bookstore, my eye on the new translation of the above mentioned book, but move on, up past the watch shop I forgot to stop into looking for a new watchband for an old watch, into The Haircuttery, finding the waiting room upstairs full, not feeling up for the waiting, past the teahouse for a looseleaf tea, and when I get back, after checking in with mom, whom I just saw, taking her home after the holidays, the long drive there and back, I need a nap to digest, and then a long time staring at the ceiling to let my thoughts form.  Checking my iPhone I am almost distracted away from making any effort to write by postings on Facebook and thoughts how to handle on-line dating.

So do you think you're in exile, the therapist asks.  Well, yes, that's the restaurant business, the odd hours, the sense you cannot escape of waiting to live your actual life.  Sure, you're friendly with a many people, a fine social network, and I have the best, but at the end of the night, what do you come back to, home to?

I was such a sweet kid, my mom says, as we look through all photographs, the beautiful house built up a winding country road of woods and farm fields, one of three houses.  Yes, what happened to that sweet kid who even carried a little briefcase with him onto the school bus.

I refrain from the wine but for giving it a swirl and a nose and a minuscule sip, blocking any refill.  Dutifully I ask for the rarer cuts, pulling them off as the waiter brings the vertical sword skewers of top sirloin and bottom and filet mignon and leg of lamb and roast beef.  I smile, ask a few questions of my guys about their recent travels, one to Austin to help his girlfriend move, one to Orlando with his, her parents backing out at the last minute.  The meat is chewed and eaten, desserts finally come, a little word from the boss about it being a good year, a good team, not the greatest praise, but hey, it's business, a couple of group of photos, earlier, Secret Santa along the long table.

Back at the restaurant, the work is never done, until late.  The break from the night shift feels odd, but I'll take it, lazing around.  It's better to write in the earlier part of the day, when words are fresher, but this today was time spent with that curious helper listener in an office, in a way a dissipation of the energy if you talk what you'd wish to write.

Christmas is always too much, now with children added into the mix as I shepherd mom along through her visit.  I was lucky to have the time to take her back, not wanting her to suffer the long train ride and the hotel and the long cab ride, and the weather held out.

What does it look like when you come back from exile, she asks, the doctor.   I don't know, something about teaching...  A way to understand the writing of the first book, the sustained effort despite the physical tolls of tending bar to be a person of letters...

Why the exile, but over the most foolish and haphazard things, like turning left instead of right, unforgiving world that it can be with all the more direct and self-centered people with their human agendas to see put through into actualization.  Add a few small mistakes, that's all it takes.  And then the doors are shut and you're out there with nothing but your own resources, and how did it get that way?  Opportunities not seized upon, that sort of thing.

But these things, like exiles, are the sorts of things that writers are curious about, drawn to, not that they like them.  Like deeper questions, what makes the prisoner in the camp different from us, or the same.   Judge another, through examining their behavior, we must, making choices and judgments, and women can be passive of course, not giving the guidance they might when your own mind becomes clouded and confused, hurt by something taken ultimately the wrong way.  The kid got his papers in late, what can you do?  Some deeper seriousness possessed him in these matters.  The teachers did not stop to ask, what was going on with him, calling it 'academic trouble.'

Driving back from the snowy north country, the sun coming through the clouds to alight the snowy woods and the fields, flat country with distant hills, I think of James Dean growing up in Indiana, his visits home to the farm, snow-covered ground, the land of his boyhood.  It's not easy to live in Lake Effect snow country, but I miss it.  I loved snow as a child.

East of Eden comes on the television after I've drafted my little draft here.  The place needs to be picked up.  I pour myself a little wine to soothe the night, not too much, getting the cooked chicken breast out of the refrigerator.