Thursday, January 5, 2017

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.

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