Laziness leads to Itchiness - I was growing bored of cracking open eggs, peeling back the lids of sardine containers, and cutting up avocados. While attempting to ready myself for a rac...
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Apr. 13--I'm cheating on David Foster Wallace. It's not that I don't love him. I do. Sometimes I'm cheating on DFW with himself. But "Infinite Jest" is a 1,000-plus page tome that is gumbo-dense, very few page breaks and minimal places to come up for air.
So I'll put it down and turn to Thomas Merton, whose faith I don't have, but I envy. Merton often carries me from winter to spring, through the last, darkest cold days before short sleeves and beer on the back deck. Merton gives way to Walt Whitman. I try to re-read "Leaves of Grass" every spring.
This is how my reading and mental life goes. Like House of Pain, I jump around. I chase down tangents, at times feeling like a certain writer was put in front of me at a certain time because he or she has something to tell me. That often seems the case.
When I pick "Infinite Jest" back up, I'll forage my way through and come across something like this:
...both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer.
And then I sit thinking, "daaaammn," existentially speaking, and I know that I'm with DFW for the long haul, even though it may take some time. But hopefully not a Time [that] came to him in the falcon-black of the library night in an orange mohawk and Merry Widow w/ tacky Amalfo pumps and nothing else. -DFW, because that shit would be crazy.
Apr. 9--My feet prayed today. It was a three and a half mile prayer of thanks. They prayed on asphalt, dirt, gravel, wood and concrete. Their prayer went something like this:
Thank you for another year. Thank you for spring and sun on skin, for daffodils in bloom. Thank you for friends and family and their creativity in helping us live our lives in community. Thank you for breath and sweat, thank you muscles that work and ache, thank you for fields and roads and for a means to connect them all.
I'm not sure whether the people I passed could hear what my feet were praying, but I think they could. After a couple years that included a five-month layoff for an ankle injury, the better part of a year with undiagnosed Lyme Disease, and a recent layoff for being sick, my feet and I will always be thankful for an easy run in warm spring weather, the day after my birthday.
Apr. 13--So prayer seems to be on my mind lately. Not the ask for things kind of prayer, but the Merton-style contemplative prayer. Something like this:
There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves. (Merton, "Love and Living")
That's how it comes together: spring, newness, renewal. Contemplation, whether it is inspired by DFW, or a spring run, or Merton.
Friday, March 29, 2013
My mornings have been usurped. Willingly, nobody stole them. But the up-while-it's-still-dark time that used to be for running, writing, meditating, is for work. Has been for a while, but I haven't figured out how to adjust my mojo. My mojo is fragmnted and haphazard. Much like a Charlie-in-the-Box, no one wants a haphazard mojo.
Rhythm is everything. Rhythm is nothing. If you are Eric B. and Rakim, you can let the rhythm hit 'em. Maybe I mean momentum vs. rhythm, but probably both. They both invoke flow. So do rivers and diners, but the latter is another kind of Flo.
Eric B. and Rakim also advised not to sweat the technique. Solid advice. Get it working. Let it go. Look for content. And content is everywhere.
If my thinking is fragmented, blame David Foster Wallace. Part of my reading time is spread out within "Infinite Jest" at the moment. Other parts are contemplating alongside Thomas Merton, who seems to be who I pick up when I question faith, question life, want to find something to direct the questions.
In third grade, I went to the Salisbury Civic Center to my first WWF/professional wrestling match. There were four of us, as part of a friend's birthday party. Andre the Giant beat Blackjack Mulligan. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka wrestled Ivan "The Polish Hammer" Putski. Bob Backlund retained his title against Playboy Buddy Rhodes. This past Sunday, we were in the same arena with our girls watching John Cena, Chris Jericho, Ryback and The Shield. Wrestling, the theater of the absurd, as a generational connection.
Baseball is another connection. March has been a dress rehearsal, building steam to opening day. About baseball, Walt Whitman said, "Baseball is our game, the American game. I connect it with our national character... America's game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere." I'm a Whitman fan and a baseball fan. For our family, baseball season means Washington Nationals games in D.C., and Nats games on MASN on in the evenings.
The girls tear through packs of Topps baseball cards looking for Nationals' players the way I looked for Eddie Murray, Gary Roenicke and Jim Palmer Orioles cards when I was their age.
So this post is largely nostalgia. And looking forward. It's a cycle, circling back on itself and forward. It's renewal. It's spring.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
In a room which blazed with light the young bride who was one day to be Queen of Italy was introduced. It was the event of the year... And while the world of fashion amused itself thus, at the same hour and in the same city a lone astronomer was discovering a new planet... --James Salter, "The Cinema," from DUSK AND OTHER STORIES.
I might hate James Salter. He was born in 1925, grew up in New York City, graduated from West Point and flew planes for the U.S. Army, flying more than 100 missions as a fighter pilot including during the Korean War. He resigned from the military to focus on writing. And his short stories and prose blur the line between prose and poetry. There isn't a word out of place. I hang on every sentence. He simultaneously inspires and makes me want to hang it up. But mostly inspires.
Salter went from fighter pilot to writer. He didn't waste time. I envy his economy of words and time. We all have a finite number of days on this earth, or at least in the bodies we're rocking presently. I wrote out the passage above about the queen-to-be and the lone astronomer. With your days, you can attend posh parties or you can set out to discover a new planet. Maybe, in the best lives, you can do both.
I picture Salter as the lone astronomer. About writing, he tells the Paris Review, "I hate the first inexact, inadequate expression of things. The whole joy of writing comes from the opportunity to go over it and make it good, one way or another." Salter misses parties.
I'm lazy. I don't always use my time to look for planets. To make the attempt. But as we're getting set to begin our Infinite Quest trekking through David Foster Wallace's masterpiece, Salter gives me the image of the lone astronomer. Salter and Wallace have made their discoveries. They've missed parties, put in their time.
Will we do the same?
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
David Foster Wallace slams his junk on the counter. All of it. FWOP! The beautiful, the damaged, the cerebral, the interconnected, the difficult, the long-winded, the mind-blowing, the annotated. Here, take this, all of it, and have at it.
Wallace's second novel, "Infinite Jest," is more than 1,000 pages. It's a difficult book that's been critically heralded as genius by almost all counts, if sprawling, daunting and labyrinthine. That's not what young novelists are supposed to do. When you are 34 years old, building a literary reputation, you aren't supposed to slam down a confusing doorstop of a tome that might alienate readers who want an easy beach read.
When I walk into a bookstore, I know that I don't want to read most of the books in the joint. Not even close. I'm looking for books that speak to me about life, art, storytelling, philosophy, the Universe; that open my mind to possibilities; that connect things in ways I haven't considered. I'm learning over time what books those might be, what authors write the kind of books I want to read. I've known Wallace through his essays and shorter pieces. He is one of those writers.
But I have shied away from "Infinite Jest." With a book that size that is known as a tough read, I figured I might balk. Start and stop and figure I'll get back to it. But I didn't want to. I wanted to have at it. Eat the elephant, one bite at a time, but with the attention it deserves. I love that DFW was willing to slam his junk--his genius, his hang-ups, his shortcomings--and say, here.
In a commencement address at Kenyon College, Wallace posited that the goal of an education was to learn, "How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out."
That's a cat I want to hang with, one that has something to say to me. If you don't know much about Wallace or "Infinite Jest," I recommend reading Dave Eggers' foreword to the book.
I want to hear what Wallace has to say in his art, in his biggest, most brilliant book. So I've enlisted help. Myself included, we have 12 adventurers who are going to follow Wallace on his infinite quest. Strength in numbers. Many minds to help navigate the maze. We light our torches and begin the journey on Feb. 15. Holler if you'd like to join the expedition.
Wallace hung himself when he was 46. He suffered from depression and was on and off his meds toward the end of his life. The New Yorker has a great article on the chronology of his life and his struggles. There are geniuses/artists it seems, who aren't right for our times. Maybe for any times. The tragedy of it, we are left with a limited number of ways to honor, appreciate, indulge what he left behind. But one of those ways, part of his legacy is Infinite.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Art is singing on the railroad tracks, even when you hear the train coming. Metaphorically speaking, mind you, I'm not advocating train track art.
I've been listening to Tom Waits a lot lately, saw this photo and said right off, that's what art is. That's the attempt. When it's so important, where you have to do it, you have to create music, painting, writing, whatever, whatever the risk.
The New York Times Magazine ran a feature on George Saunders and his new book of short stories. Reading the article made me ashamed not to have read Saunders. But I'm remedying that. And have since found out he'll be reading at Politics and Prose in D.C., on Jan. 14.
Saunders further sold me with a newly written preface to his first book, "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline." He flashes back to his life as a technical writer and a new father during the time he scratched out the time to write the stories. It's both his commitment to make it happen and his way of talking about the author creating art once they've stopped trying to imitate the writers they are influenced by:
The work he does there is not the work of his masters. It is less. It is more modest; it is messier. It is small and minor.
But at least it’s his.
He sent the trained dog that is his talent off in search of a fat glorious pheasant, and it brought back the lower half of a Barbie doll.
So be it.
So be it. It's like fishing and pulling up a boot. Saunders's story of writing his first book helps keep the (this) writer's dream alive a lit longer. He's singing on the railroad tracks. George Saunders, Tom Waits and the lower halves of Barbie dolls. Amen.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Robert Frost and I don't talk much. He's a bit old school and rhymey for my taste. A funny thing though, when a poet reaches out of your memory, out of your subconscious, to chat.
I've had Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in my head for a number of months now. Particularly the last stanza:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I hear Frost speaking in the deep, Southern drawl or Mr. Chew, our 10th grade English teacher at St. James. Mr. Chew was also our cross country coach, who got us out running through the woods, usually before they were snowy, and there wasn't much stopping going on.
Frost's narrator stops to chill, take in a scene, a moment, where most folks en route keep cranking. But there was something more going on. Maybe Frost-the-narrator (FTN) is tired, fed up with work, with bills, with all the shit he's got to do. The moment of hesitation presents something else. Dude, fu** it, what if I just chill here and take this in. For good?
The temptation is there, "the woods are lovely, dark and deep." But FTN doesn't give himself more than the passing thought. Nah, man, "I've got promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep." I got shit to do.
Let's face it, we've got days, maybe weeks-months-years where the temptation of the snowy woods is there. It's funny though, how often I hear Mr. Chew as FTN, out of the blue with those last three lines, "But I've got promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep."
So this fall and winter, I've had Frost and Chew speaking up from memory, from subconscious, saying hey. And then on New Year's Day, as we're taking out Christmas decorations down, Robin pulls down a blackboard she writes a new seasonal message on every couple months. She wipes the old "Merry Christmas" off. She says:
What if I put the first verse of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," on the board?
I've never mentioned Frost, or Mr. Chew, or that poem to her. Voices, speaking from the past. Our past, for us to hear. If we listen.
That would be cool, hon.
So I leave you with Frost's whole poem. You can say it out loud, in a deep Southern drawl if you want.
Whose woods these are I think I know.His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
A-stumble back from a bar, watching my feet to see if they make a straight line.
A lamp lit in a window is proof of another life. Someone else's existence.
Feet stretched onto a stool, the glow of a television. Maybe she's watching Seinfeld reruns. Or some law/cop drama. Maybe she got some shitty news. A break up. A lump. Maybe there's a stack of bills next to her chair and not enough to cover them.
Maybe she's just stumbled home a few minutes before me, unexcited by hook-up prospects, and she's just nuked some mac and cheese or pizza that lived in the fridge. Maybe her beer buzz has her contemplating trips to the mountains where dudes will be hotter and smarter and pizza will taste better at altitude with legs sore from hiking.
Or maybe she sits on her couch, scribbling in a notebook about the guy that just wandered by her window, on the street at closing time; proof of another life, proof against the one a.m. existential aloneness.
Proof by a lamp lit in a house. Proof by the stumble of a passer-by.