Music. Thinking about music as I listen to one of my favorite playlists - they are all favorites in their turn: 20 albums of Neil Young and Mark Knopfler playing in shuffle-mode. These guys go together in my brain like biscuits and gravy. You just don't get any more all-American than that, and I am a child of the heartland, even if stubbornly so. (Emmylou gets a nod in here as her 'All the Road Running' album with Mark is unequaled.) I think of the heartland-bible-belt that cinches us up so tight in the midst of our desire, both the worst and best of us, that we lose all circulation between the below-the-navel-us and the faith-of-our-fathers-above and we create good and bad where none need exist, just to explain the lack of circulating thoughts. As a child of all that, of the hatreds that encumber heartland thinking, of the narrowness of its sacred alleys, I slide into the stubborn withdrawal of hoping that we are better than we think. Mark and Neil are balms of the first water.
I think of writing. I think of wanting to create, to give, to add to the frosting on the cake of what we all are. And I think of writing. A friend put it very kindly of late: if you have even one reader then you are a writer. But writing is just the froth on the latte. It doesn't touch the vibrant taste of the hard, acidic coffee flavor underneath. Writing is the music - but without the melody, and in that is great sorrow. I have wanted to write music as long as I can recall. Words were the part I 'got'. The musical notes were the part I did not. As much as I love music I am as deaf to it's true voice as I am blind to the loveliness of the infrared or ultraviolet spectra. We are so limited. And we want so much. It is amazing that the entire population of the earth doesn't explode all at once of longing. The individual desire to create is only the mirror of our seeing-beauty and finding it's statement intensely personal. Creation is what the heart desires above all else, not just reaching out to touch the abstract beauty we encounter, but finding the beauty within us made manifest in word, note, gesture or line. I think the worst of us ache to generate, and maybe the worst, the most afflicted, perhaps the most. Look at Bukowski and tell me he was a beautiful soul.
"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."
— Charles Bukowski (Factotum)
He lived an uncomprimising life. I could not do that. I am too much a child of the social order. It isn't that he was right, or better, just that he did what he did come hell or high water for reasons, or nonreasons, that only he could estimate, and I admire that more than I do the silver-tongued who become President, or Head of the Board. They have taken the easy path of education and charisma. Stigma is not in their vocabulary. Which road, I ask, offers the greater glimpse into who we are? And it isn't as if each of us is required to walk the knife edge path along the cliff of imminent dissolution. Were we, then the race would cease, but some must, to keep the rest of us 'right'. I don't wish to be one of the walkers; I just wanted to write music. I can't and I melt with the longing.
It’s strange that when we listen we hear such different things. I love your Mark and Neil playlist and thought that we liked it for the same reasons. Not so, it would seem. I think of these two as being highly UN- American. Mark is such a Brit! His class- consciousness, his precision in choosing words and notes, his bitter depths, his brilliance make him the antithesis of clumsy. Clumsiness is America to me. Or maybe Deceit is America to me. In that case Neil is the antithesis. His open, Canadian prairie purity rings true, truer than anything but the blues. (The blues, incidentally, is not American. It is a reaction to American brutality; but that’s another story.)
Like the most opaque shit-kicking, mouth-breathing son of the soil, I have personified MyCountryTisofThee. MyCountryTisofThee is an errant, soul-crushing bully.
I’m surprised to discover the degree of alienation I’ve managed to preserve through the years. In my 73rd year, I’m still the 8 year old with a stomachache in a windy schoolyard waiting to be annihilated by stupidity and indifference, by clumsiness and deceit. Music has always been the anodyne. I’m safe inside the music. I don’t think of music, good music, as something created. It exists, like air, like king’s X, like the sweetest sleep.
Tongue in cheek the editor rides to the rescue wielding a very sharp knife. She pares away at a truly egregious first paragraph to reveal my own utter lack of precision. I confess - my brain hit 'biscuits and gravy' and went on a tear, a tangential ramble into Kansas Boy's American Critique. Regardless of what I had first begun writing about - music, I went off the tracks and into the brambles. The only saving grace is that my last sentence does show that I agree with her about the merits of Mark and Neil.
This is the editor at her carving-best. A lesson in continuity of thought is offered and suddenly has its own echoing beat and slips into the letter - like butter on those biscuits?
Gloriously warm today, maybe up to 40... Drip, drip everywhere as roofs and stones show their just-washed faces. Tonight will come the ice. Tomorrow the ambulatory slip-slide where broken wrists go to E.R. and stories are told of how unexpectedly we went down, how fast, how sharply the breath was taken. I have developed a technique that I find I am actually able to use. This is amazing considering the utter dropout speed of descent - why was gravity never declared a god? is there any awakening of the senses as complete as the falling, and hitting? No time to think; feet move from beneath as if kicked loose. My method is to tuck my arms as I fall. Too many times I have wrenched a wrist, shoulder or elbow trying to catch myself in the insubstantial arms of thin air; a bit of pain is a great teacher: do not reach for what is not there. Now I go down tucked into as small a parcel as I can be without thought. The bouncing-softly instinctual furball on the way to oblivion. Doesn't hurt at all. The Zen of plummeting learned in a blink.
Big storms are slamming in all around us. Twenty dead here, twenty missing there, and a thousand stranded elsewhere. Saturday we may get ours: freezing rain, then snow, the stuff the road to hell is paved with.
Tonight is xmas eve and I realize I probably haven't celebrated xmas, as in having a tree, lights, and tinsely wrapped boxes adorned with bows, for about 30 years. Pat misses her grandkids; she drifts into the room to tell me she would rather spend xmas with me than with Mark Knopfler, or Robert Downey, Jr. She feels bad and is consoling me. We give what we most want. Love is like that. I am a lumpy consolation of 200+ pounds of male presence indenting the bed, and a warm butt, none of which will ever equal 7 grandkids with various parents, all of whom sing in the maternal blood. Sometimes I realize I can never offer quite enough, but there is nothing to be done. Blame does not attach, nor regret suffice. We move forward into next year knowing we are not alone. That, and to be loved in the moving, are the best most of us will ever get. What more can anyone expect?
We were waiting at the pharmacy in Wally-world and watched a man publicly and loudly deride his wife over not being pushy enough in getting her order filled. She apologized for him, saying he 'didn't like to wait.' I shudder to think what might drive me into such a posture. None of us are exempt from bitterness; circumstances will point out where within it resides waiting to emerge, to knock us from our softly won balance of plenty. Stress me enough and I am sure harsh words and foul acts will erupt through my skin with bared teeth. I look back at days when I was abrupt, wrapped in sorrow and anger, unfit for any use, and I tremble that all these states are still there inside me. Quiescent, dormant, but having a kinetic sort of energy, like wound springs, and able to be goaded into instant action - as if our worst emotions had little lives of their own, their own agenda to pursue, a stalking and killing in their nature. But contending with such demons is the only way we have of proving who we are. The demons are as necessary to us as our love and grace and hope. Only in choosing between our different sides do we learn. My own fear is that when pushed enough I will revert, knock my neighbor to the ground to get that last bag of rice from the tailgate of the relief truck. We tear ourselves first, and then we tear those around us. The transition is probably not even perceptible in the rush to prevail.
Something else that brought this to mind was what a vicar in the U.K. told his parishoners. He said it was allright to shoplift as long as you only took what you needed and did it in the big box stores, not the mom&pop's. His superiors were quick to denounce his stand. People want things to be black and white; I do, too. The vicar understood that between those two almost impossibly exclusive states, in the affairs of men anyway, lies a vast field of shades of gray. This is where we live. It is the home of conscience stretched and marginalized. We deal all the time in the bad, and the not-so-bad, the lie and the almost-true, the what we should have done, and the what we did. Now it seems we will be forced deeper into the darker grays, choices with more shadow. Our conscience under pressure says integrity will inhibit survival; we listen. There is a grief afoot that makes us all smaller and meaner.
Conscience is a slippery construct. It has a basic assumption that we can choose between what is right, and what is not and act accordingly. I don't mean the oft-seen man-of-god-conscience; the narrow visioned bearers of implacable truths. They have snapping banners coming from between their thin lips, whipping at you. Wear they bomb-belts or unforgiving countenances they all move constantly in the fields of darkest gray bent on the destruction of moderation.
Moderation is the home of conscience.
And it is its tomb - is nothing easy anymore?
Men who perform decisive valiant acts say they are not heroes; they only did what they had to. I, on the other hand, would be a hero. A coward from my first encounters with fear and hard choices I usually choose to run. A dodger and avoider. Avert my eyes and drive on by. You might think I am not like that, but I see myself that way. In some feeble excusatory gesture I claim moderation as a reason; who am I, I ask, to say emphatically which are right and which wrong? Who am I to decide guilt and innocence? Beginning to gel in the undercurrent of indecision I drift quickly into the freeze of irresolution. The road is known to me. Cowards are irresolute. I am all 'middle ground'. Balancing pros and cons when action is needed.
Irresolution and I circle each other on the sanded floor of the arena. I am looking for an exit. It is looking for the handle on my head. Picked up at arm's length I am free to howl, to proclaim, but cannot reach to hit, kick or bite back. The irresolution is also me, but a small, twisted me with darting eyes - yet so powerful it holds me in the air, a puppet. Here is one of those talked-about demons skulking into a letter, grinning thru scummy teeth at the audience. (Maybe I should switch my genre to graphic novels.)
Confrontation with others seems the very lip of anhilation, and I back off from the abyss. At the cusp I seek safety, turning away and scampering. I think I must have been little in a jungle where the other, larger creatures were crushingly fierce, angry beyond understanding. Dread was the lesson I learned. Not backbone. Not certainty. Not outrage. I love the way Pat understands outrage. She is the soul of certainty when she feels impinged upon and as certain as a bullet in flight. I don't understand that, how that can be inside a person. Stopping to think twice, I stop. My closest corrolary is rage. I discovered rage very young and rediscovered it as an adult. Very powerful. Unstoppable. As useless as shoe laces in prewar Japan. Rage is a devouring beast that would eat everyone involved without compunction. I know Pat's certainty must share some features with my rage; she is implacable when she knows she is right, and she seems enraged, but it isn't the same. Somehow her 'knowing' shares more with the certainty of conscience than with my prehuman rage. She demands, from the entire universe, justice. Justice for us all.
Hungry, no job, homeless. People in increasing numbers see less and less light in their choices. It would seem to be a growing function of corporate profit and government management to create destitution among the populace. I am not sure that we, as a country - or even a globalized world, have much choice but to participate in the process. Levers have been tripped, doors opened, barriers built, remediation blocked, and we slide toward growing conflict with one another. It has been mandated by a few and such are the numbers, of people, and the degree, of power, involved that grief is inexorably to be our own.
I have been re-reading, it goes more smoothly as a book-in-hand than it did on the screen, Charles Hugh Smith's book, "Survival +". His critique of how we got here, this present mess, helps clarify my thinking, and his ideas on what we might do next, combine to be oil on the waters. If you have the time give the abridged online, free, version a shot. I find it a revelation that for every hundred bastards the gene pool fosters there might be a Charles in the mix, for balance.
We had xmas dinner with our alternate family. The dead did not arise this time; it was generally subdued. It was nice. Tiger Woods' jokes leaked into the cookies: The new drug, Tiagra: When 18 Holes Just Aren't Enough.
Ara writes to say his dinner with Natalie's family was great fun, another 'Home for the Holidays' moment; a wonderful film if you haven't seen it. I hope the farting aunt, Geraldine Chaplin, showed up. She is the spirit of the slightly misplaced and represents us all at one time or another.
Zoe hasn't checked in yet. In L.A. somewhere, having failed to get a cheap flight to Guam for the beach and diving. She will fly again very soon. Got to keep the troops rolling east. The National Mandate calls for sacrifice. We probably needn't go to the extreme of offering up a chicken.
Xmas is a blank time-between, but that is the nature of winter.
Monday, December 21, 2009, 12:47 P.M. It is the hour, the very minute, of the Solstice. Arrrghhh! I have turned to Google to seek how many are the added seconds of sunlight per day from this point until the vernal equinox; I know the info is there but I cannot tease it out. My search parameters lack. I was going to WOW! you with an exact presentation of those precious seconds, and I cannot. But we know those seconds, building into minutes and hours, in our hearts.
The real cold is yet to come; that is given. Winter is here and will try its best to invest our houses with a deadly chill. We fight back with oil boilers, wood boilers, propane heaters. I know we fight something of a losing battle. I do believe cheap and abundant fossil fuels are limited. Someday it will just be us and the cold and how much wood we have cut and how deep underground we have built. I would like a house about 30 feet underground, where year-round it is about 50f., and so little wood is needed of a winter that we all become autumn loafers and the trees live their creaky wintry lives.
On that note I have decided to run half of our yearly charity budget to MOFGA. Training young farmers to grow organically, locally strikes me as more immediately worthwhile than digging wells in the rest of the world. Pat wants to keep half going to Water for People . I truly have no bone to pick with these people; I think they are wonderful. I am just slightly more concerned with what goes on locally, with my neighbors. Pat says that the pics of the kids with flies in their eyes wins every time; I understand. I wouldn't wish any woman to walk 5 miles a day for water, but it is triage time. The local situation wins, with sorrow that the choice need be made. The resources are there for both, but a more powerful triage intervenes and the GWOT and corporate profits loom as greedy giants with huge hands. By bits and pieces we each, individually, do what we can despite what we are told to believe. That is real democracy in action, not the voting for one side of the coin rather than the other. The more we are forced onto the periphery the more each of us will recognize our place in the social fabric, as interwoven communicants. I think maybe I will never vote again except with my dollar; does it go to someone out of work, or to the defense budget? Someday we may see that our reach actually only extends to what we can touch, and not to what we wish for. A worthy epiphany. We are now into the new decade and this becomes the first letter of 2010. I will ask the editor to check it and slide it toward you. The ForseyEnglands of Auburn, Maine. (Not to be confused with the Beans of Egypt.)