Sunday, June 25, 2017

It often feels like you yourself are the last one to be able to say anything wise.  A voice tells you, ah, kid, you're just an amateur.  Where would you start, even begin, anyway?

Well, you probably have to start out, like everyone else, with getting up out of bed, make your tea or coffee, have a promise of something to eat for breakfast.  Take it from there.  (Perhaps this is why pieces of literature recount basic things, shaving in the morning, breakfast over a campfire with coffee and hotcakes, an army crossing over a bridge, basic details of the texture of things we find in our own lives, basically shared the world round.)

Speaking of Dante:

What are the dark woods, but a feeling of, or  comparable to, all the the ground you have lost in that tug of life between life and talents, between vocation and avocation, between a job and the calling your basic personality and its values.  Have you put yourself on the path, of all the inner abilities and onward toward reaching the potentials thereof?

You had it, a clean line of sight, talents for the direction, a compass.  And now you're in a dark thicket, no light to shine, strange sounds and voices, inner and outer, of the darkness.  You are, as Dante starts, "lost," in a big way, knowing not which direction to turn in.  In exile.  In need of good thoughts and positive vibrations, light, a path.

There were the things you built up, worked upon, and then, who knows exactly why, feeling low or feeling in need of spiritual purification, purification for a soul guilty of laziness, torpor, indirection--as the great literature of the Bible and other spiritual texts tell of, as is not uncommon, told many times, in enough different ways for you to get the point--you let things go.  You fell down, you lost your courage, which is a hard thing to look at and admit in yourself, I suppose.

Or rather, you didn't, as they say, get yourself out there.  Other people do.  They get out there, they work hard.  They stand up individually, pursuing something of a dream, to claim the right of their own talents, their values, the conjecture of their thoughts.  Bravely, they stood up, were tested, again and again, beat the pavement, showed up, went through stress, and then come out afterward acknowledged as practitioners of their craft, no longer apprentices, celebrated, recognized, writing their own ticket.  Or, at least, on a path forward, doing something, getting, as they say, paid to do it.

Whereas you yourself, so the thinking of the dark wood might go, grunt along, a noble workingman, yes, committed, but, not at all sure you're on the right path, or even the right ballpark.  Are you hiding your talents under a rock, a rock in the forest, on the dark wet side of rocks and stone where things crawl moistly at the edge of the soil?  Are you hiding your light, your lamp, as it is said, under a bushel basket, and perhaps, tired out at the end of the day or not wanting to get up really in the morning, for what are you doing anyway but living under some heavy pressing thing, in need of acceptance and love and family.  Too long in hiding, yes, and maybe no  longer in good shape as you once were.

Did you miss the boat?  Is life like the story Jimi Hendrix tells in Castles Made of Sand in the maturity of his second record album, as art plumbs the spiritual, the mismatched quality of the young Indian brave who is dispatched in his sleep by the enemy before he can "sing his first war song."  Yes, art plumbs the spiritual, generally left out of the main portion of that which is the corporate world, of business and accounting and banking mechanism.  Art calls upon the concept of karma.  Art calls upon the concept of being, of being alive.  Art recognizes the God's grace, mercy, and the indomitable spirit within each of us, whether we present it forwardly as a largely unseen topic behind most conversations, or not, not talking about it, except as it relates to the projects one is up to, like making a canoe or performing music somewhere.  Hope, hope, is what we need.

Perhaps karma is there to serve, to help you eventually get into that realm of wiseness oft spoken of, though who knows with certainty what being wise is, beyond particular actions, foolishness, mistakes, misspeaking, wrong thinking, wrong employment, etc..  Karma helps you avoid wanting material things beyond your means, that one of a certain broad mainstream set of values might well tend to strive for, things like, things we all need even, security, comfort, compensation for our work, good taste, and nothing at all wrong with all of that, to each his own.  There is a hurting hard to describe openly, hard to admit, hard to avoid, when the bulk of these things seem tentative.  The good taste of the public keeps people employed, people like me who didn't quite fall into all that themselves out of whatever reason and quite possibly stupidity, laziness, foolishness.  Perhaps material things help us get out of that feeling of being lost, and that is a good thing if it helps you avoid the negativities and anxieties that are hard on social life and health.

There is within the great lesson, like that told in the tales of Job and Jonah, how we go from the denial of talent and depression, shrugged of the nay-sayers inward and outward, get through that, got better, somehow.   Perhaps this is what resounds in us instinctively of Lincoln, at least the Sandburg as historian's version, gleaned from talking to the people who knew him, like the story Herndon his law business partner and other people would observe of him, lying low on the couch, lost in some space far enough away.

It is not surprising to me the wealth of genuinely worthy of the literary label, meaningful works that come out of the restaurant trade,  the tales of Bourdain, Pépin, flashes of a collective subconscious...  Really a great richness in them, and creating a tradition out of something old as the hills, stories of working... drawing creative types like a river draws animal life.

Writing is hard work in its own strange way.  It can be exhausting, perhaps for being unnerving, though there is generally a decent feeling that comes from having made the simple effort.  At least your working on your basic physical chops, letting the fingers do their thing over the keyboard of an old MacBook Pro.  Writing has its rhythms, its hours of sunlight, its Van Gogh sense of toiling in the garden and vineyard of humanity in search of something of color, eloquent to say, when an individual forget his or herself, went with the flows of observations from one tree or stone to the next, became less a self and more a part of nature.

There are times when the pain of morality, a sense of sickness inside, needs to somehow nourished, and writing, as well as the creative element of spiritual works (which often have a fictive ring to them, perhaps to make them more real to us) to be read and pondered over, can serve as a coping mechanism, something sustaining us, as we slowly get better and better, finding the people of the world, our neighbors, the people we respect as creative types, supportive and helpful.

I wrote a long time ago about myself as a kid, more or leads, going back to his first homecoming weekend.  Doesn't go well the young dame, and the kid finds himself at a record store, and that's what he takes back with him, Red Roses for Me, the Pogues first album.  And ever since then, those old Irish rebel songs redone by MacGowan and company, vital to our own times, have stood, like Shane says, "still there's a light I hold before me..."  And the rebels of life have always been important to me, like my old friend, Pani Korbonska, who'd have me over on full moon nights, for light fare and wine and cheese, telling stories about standing up the Nazis in Warsaw, sending radio messages picked up in London for information to broadcast back over Radio Free Europe.

And also for myself, there's something about Huck, on that big old river with Jim, that sort of strikes me, the decency of being on the observant side of life, not pre-judging, no particular agenda to impose, rolling with it, admitting one's own wishes and mistakes.

Friday, June 23, 2017

This be literature.

What if there was a God, so to speak, and one who would create a being of the same image.  That creatuure, man, let's say, would be thoroughly equipped to do the things of "God's work," just as he was.  Wouldn't need to be anybody other than who he was, just as he was.  He wouldn't do any particular career other than what came naturally to him and his two hands.  He wouldn't have to be a priest, not a doctor, nor a banker, nor a lawyer, though all of those too might share the image of "God" as well.   There wouldn't be much of that which is typically regarded as selfish.  He'd be kind, interested in the world, get sad when whales die with their guts full of plastic bags.   He'd look up to the night sky, enjoy a quiet street or a busy one, be glad for the simple things on Earth like trees, birds, animals, the natural paths of running water, and so forth.  He might well be, as Dostoevsky or Melville might have predicted in their physics of the soul, something of an idiot.  He'd be respected as a coworker for being a guy who got the job done, efficiently, without extra noise.  He'd recite the Lord's Prayer in a simple and earnest fashion out of respect for its own mathematics.  He'd rejoice in the success of people like Jacques Pépin.  He'd like to cook, because cooking is important.  He'd take joy in root vegetables, and, if he liked, cooking hamburgers with onion.  He'd like wine, and the company of those who also enjoy it, for that would mean that they too were from the image, the blueprint that is because it is, that which is, just the human being part of it all.

Would there be a childishness to him?  Would he be gullible, but outgrow that in time, while remaining as he was, nothing in particular, a server of wine, let's say.

He'd be arrested and disgusted with images of violence and violence itself, even it meant what another more aggressive type of social being might consider losing face by not tending forth violence back.  Would there be an innocence to him?  Something off-putting, if you didn't know his overall plan which was also part of the pattern blown into the dust that made him, which he wouldn't consciously know himself as the expression about the left hand and the right hand.  Would he spout off such things as I write now?  No, he'd probably keep it pretty cool, and go about things without too much fanfare.  He would not claim to be an expert, but that rather all people know their tastes, their own inner knowledge, their own ability to discern what is placed before them.  Much like pouring a tasting of wine for people, giving them a basic vocabulary to which they will react.

He would already be doing what he was doing, and the question was merely letting the inner shine out, without any need for self-promotion.  This would seem like a problem to most people by their own good common sense.

But, as a father who was a teacher once explained to his son, there are throughout all history and space such types quietly going about their business in an enlightened fashion, sort of like the adepts who can finally come and go as they please through space and time.  "It's the same guy," he would say to his son, "who appears here as Moses, here as the Buddha, here as Jesus, showing up over and over again."  Thus, reincarnation.

The paradigm, the model, the pattern of divine image comes down to the things around him, the way he populates his life, the surroundings he is found in, his place of work.   And to him, just as so, things are well.  He would help the people he came into contact, just by being himself, as he was.

It is kind of a boring story, but one worth studying as a kind of taxonomy of human being and related animals.

In the timelines poetically representative of the natural life cycle of birth, life, death,  he would be understood as a being.  In the end he would be regarded more or less simply as a person who noticed other people, gave them their due, endured himself and others with patience, forgiving of trespasses and sins as we all share, and take that as a moment, an opportunity, to learn, to study, to eventually try to bring better forward who he was and wanted to be.  If you met him on the street, he would be shy but friendly, humorous, but not over stepping bounds beyond showing that boundaries were sometimes unnecessary and even wrong, a matter of prejudging, a discrimination of the unnecessary and wrong kind.  One path of life is narrowing, a matter of specialization and then the training of sophistication.  But there is another, and it is broader, more general, like the lily and the sparrow, and perhaps it can be described as friendship, as in the friendship between chefs, brought together by good cooking, and also wine and a sense of humor.

That is why the old restaurant too can be within the pattern, taking on the role of peace maker, spreader of good will, education, the exchange of knowledge, the acknowledgement of sustenance and mortality.  and of course the old model of serving people  in the most direct and confidently humble way there is, though all of us share that.

I am not even a writer.  I am just trying to let it flow.  I could say I am self-taught, but that would not at all be true.  The real matter is that of finding what you are comfortable with as finding material.  There is a beauty in the simplicity of a plate.  Look how much joy can come along with it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

When you go through therapy, the matter seems to be that of identifying your values.  Values have a system.  Values are what make you tick.  Values are what you respond to.  Values are what you see in the world and how you see it, how you grasp its components.

Values are what can potentially make you miserable.  Or, they are something you keep in natural balance, finding your happiness through them, celebrating, enjoying, finding peace therein.

When you don't seem to fit in with where you live, the tone and temper of the town, perhaps there is reason to enjoy your unique perspective, what you have to offer, the things you find yourself doing over and over again.  Is it, was it, fate that brought you where you are?

For a long while, everything seemed a struggle.  Cause for complaint.  And yet, over and over again, you experience a strange joy and even a talent in what you've been doing.  There are pieces to a puzzle, but they are coming closer together and even start to fit, whereas before the pieces seemed distant and even warring with each other, at conflict, at odds.  Enough to put you into complaining mode, feeling down about yourself and your situation.

Things are as they are because of your value system, the things subtly ingrained into the fibers of your being, what kind of person you'd be, how you'd act, the way you'd talk.  And in life you cannot disrespect those values within, at least for long, at least in the long run, because they are what you've got, they are who you are, and these some things cannot be changed.  They are the fire in your brain, the joy of your working hands, the voice you have within.

I'd sort of looked at it all from a perspective emphasizing the downsides of life, my own life.  There was college, there was the girl, there were all the things I'd "fucked up."  There were the things that were the "consequence" of those crucial mistakes at a crucial formative time, and I would be very down on myself and wonder why I'd fallen so low, "down and out" not in London or Paris, but in Washington, District of Columbia.  Not in New York City.  I looked at things negatively, in the logical part of the mind, as in trying to figure it out.  Why was I different?  Why wasn't I working in the daytime, in an office, like everybody else?  Why did I live not all that far away from paycheck to paycheck?  Why was I single, no wife, no kids, a renter, not an owner, figuratively speaking?

I will admit, I had a bad attitude, a voice telling me, "well, things aren't really going to work out that great, though I will manage to survive, get home after another long shift, and with some energy to play the guitar."  I don't blame the mythical princess who was a girl when I was a boy more or less, clumsy I was, and not forceful enough and sometimes too emotional, as young people, I think, can be, when it's a bit too easy to feel hurt when you shouldn't feel hurt.  If one knew then that simple habit of optimism, of ignoring the false symbol message and seeing the truer positive one, as in, "me thinks the lady doth protest too much," in the dance of courtship, male female interaction such as it is.

Nature recycles.  Hair brushed from the shedding cat, bits of newspaper's stringlike end cutting, old bits of grass and leaf stem, odds and ends of twig and straw become nesting material for our friends of the air, where they will nurture their children.

Therapy changes patterns, old habits.  The therapist, hearing you recounting an old tale of an old story, remarks of what "she" said.  "She was treating you like you were a low-life..."   Pounds of heavy weights lifting off, room, a crack of light to move in, to crawl out from under a guilty burden.

And for that matter, it's just as well, probably, I never became much of a scholar, much as I might have wanted to, following in my father's gentle caste, wishing all the while to preserve the laws of nature of societies, maintenance of their function.  Oh, for the longest while, of this whole life, I really truly was saying to myself, "what was I thinking, what was I thinking?"

Good medicine dissipates the negative thinking.  At my middle Dante stage of life, early fifties, yes, there was a considerable rut of pattern I needed to drive myself out of.  And I will say, to the best of my knowledge, therapy and a little gentle bit of daily medication, in my case Lexapro--I had been long suspicious of medicines not in the natural state, like ginseng, or turmeric or holy basil or cayenne, or L-Tyrosine, or GABA, or 5-HTP--helped in that small area in which a balance is tipped just a tiny bit for the better, like as if from a good walk in the forest along the path by the stream, enough to make a daily difference for those of us who have become are own harshest critic somehow from within.

Writing was a component of my value system.  There is something psychologically beneficial about putting the things you experience down on some form of paper.  Being of negative mind, worn down, perceiving some unfairness at work, I would sometimes carp.  Out of love and respect, and out of grace for the tradition of, say, the old form of classic Parisian bistrot, I would write out my complaints given my limited perspective and my sense of things, my feelings, feelings that come out of nights when the AC is not working, when there are too many people and not enough waiters.

Fortunately time refreshes your perspective, and you see things not out of the paranoia and negativity, but with an eye for the ultimate fairness of the burdens pulled by the team, given the restaurant as it is.  You see them again with the old affections that were always running firmly as a current beneath the work, that camaraderie, the kitchen, the chef, the dishwasher, the downstairs wait staff, the upstairs bar staff, the bussers, the clock itself, the late hours setting things up for the next day, and maybe even pulling a notepad out to write down a few of the good thoughts about those values I seem to have inherited, somewhere inclusive and between hospitality and education, psychology, a pleasant exposure to different walks of life in an international city, longing something to be out in the country as I might have wanted to be.

Well, there was a whole pile of writing.  Some of it kvetching.  But there were strains in it that presented the nuggets of my values...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Things happen in life along our inner fault lines, and only we know where ours are.  The boy who loves writing and reading after growing up drawing prodigiously goes to college, finds his life's work, writes well, and then, who knows why, takes longer and longer reading and writing.  He gets a bad grade finally, simply for being late, and no feedback on the paper he spent so long figuring out the answer he knows somehow is there.  He grows cynical.  The problem is exacerbated.  The feed into the world of New York writing fades, and it takes him a long time just to get back into any meaningful form of writing.

Eventually he follows his brother, older, down to Washington, DC.  Knowing a good deal about Lincoln and Kennedy, speeches and history, maybe he'll be a speechwriter one day, except the Hill never happens for him, distracted as he is.  He ends up working in the restaurant business, so, at least he tells himself, he can write, freed from an unhappy clerkship in an HMO attached to a local university, and no energy left to use any school benefit therein.

Sad, one fault line meets another, meets another.  The girl he liked in college and spoke well with and understood was also part kryptonite for him,   And so is his chosen profession, being a barman, part good, part bad, all across the line.

I guess it was Hemingway who wrote that we all are cracked, in a way.  And thus we are brave, holding ourselves together, even as cracks meet other cracks, as they do.   Lucky us, so on and so on.

The effects of our inner fault lines link up, accounting for our great worldly failures, employment, personal, financial, etc., etc., etc.  And, I suppose, likewise with our successes, though it might well take the most mature of Buddhas to see the moral claim of them.  And even so with the body's own wisdom within, the joy of a late evening happy juice and musical creativity being a low feeling the next day.

Years go by, a status quo, the dungeon of an odd job...  And the highest wisdom, one wonders, is no help, perhaps a hindrance to the action and choices necessary to living life, selflessness not being at all practical, the world of people demanding that you stand up for yourself, look out as you must for number one.

I am a poet.  Use the platform...

But there is no way around putting in the years.  There is a lesson in it.  There is self-knowledge gained, the only way you can do it.  The years are a mistake in themselves, but, maybe they can serve some purpose, where someone learns the err of his ways.  You were taken advantage of, yes, but you do learn something, and perhaps that edges up upon the moral element.

After more than twenty five years, I realize I hardly belong here, in this town.  Wasn't cut out for it.  A country boy wandering in urban roughs.   Mainly my good impulses and education thwarted, leaving me the life of a slave.

Funny thing, to wake up, after a trip visiting out there away from the city, regular America, visiting with my elderly mom who lives alone up by the shores of Lake Ontario where she retired from a late career in education, conversations with the maintenance man about Fireman's Field Day grilled chicken and fishing stories.  Regular people, people not cold, not looking at me with some form of contempt.  The city, the attitude, and I don't belong in it.