I do not much like talking.  I do talk, too much in fact, but it is as weightless as a cat purring.  I talk so that the people around me know I am still there, nearly-sentient, comfortable in their presence, curled into the warmth of the words they utter back my way - real content unnecessary.   Soothing sounds only need apply.  Keep your voice down; that older guy sitting there in the sun is probably dozing.  He certainly deserves his dreams.

More serious talking, the sowing of words-with-intent into the air around your head, can have a nasty, irrevocable quality; you say something and there it is out in the open, naked, and it cannot be taken back and swallowed - disappeared, and you stand a good chance of being taken for an idiot, a fool, or a mean and cantankerous bastard.  You wouldn't think it would be like that; these words are only a light breeze on your lips.  But some words really are unforgivable, and it's as easy to mutter them outloud as to fart in church.  It all just builds up inside you and then gets out like a living thing leaving your body - you have given birth; you never had a chance.  Your effluvia is public.  It stinks.  You stink.  Better to have kept it zipped.  The silent and blameless observer.

Words are really quite innocent, devoid of real meaning outside their context.  You say "shit!", a puff of internal memo in prerelease, and someone looks surreptiously at your shoe and wrinkles their nose.  The have misapprehended.  Nothing is conveyed of your anger, your dismay, your sudden ephemeral willigness to just give it all up and die on the spot.  No one sees that your girlfriend left you for a politician, you've been caught embezzeling charity funds, and films of a sordid explicit nature have surfaced - your anguish is not properly converyed...  That verbal first draft is a stain on communications.  You cannot rewrite it.  Oh, you can add, tune, expand on what is behind the one word, but you cannot recall it and turn it into song.  You can only add more, irrevocable, wrong words.  Spoken words.  Better to have never spoken.

In my ideal world I would not speak extemporaneously; I would never accrue the layers of regret that form a shell around my tongue to make it even more awkward that it is.  Communication would be, for my part, thru the corporeal excellence of words written, polished, always recallable and open to amendation.  Maybe I would have that cartoon figure's balloon over my head and others would read, not hear, what I was saying. When I did speak I could even read what I was saying, from the balloon,  aloud, lip to ear, and know that for the moment what was said was exactly what I wanted said.  Nothing blurted.  All nicely arranged.  So astute - why do we want to be perfect when we realize the impossibility of it?  Are we dumb - or what??

Yes, there can be the written-blurt.  Words put to paper that could stand being withdrawn from circulation, even later denied.  Somehow there is something almost magical about erasing a word, a page.  Once the symbols are gone and that page is blank it is almost as if it had never happened.  You can feel clean, perhaps ignorantly clean, but still, clean, and start over.  Spoken words can never be withdrawn.  There is no page to erase.  No white blankness to point at and claim innocence.  By their own phantasmical life spoken words are barbed, flying through the air to wound again and again, and cannot be renounced.  They haunt us.  We don't even see them coming when they return to stab us.

All this comes about from reading Ignacio Paco Taibo II and wanting to tell someone about him.  I can only read him in translation, and it makes me feel that I must be missing something wonderful.  If he is so marvelous in English then he must be godlike in Spanish.  I am sure of this.  It is a mystery.  He writes mysteries.  He writes politically, of the grief, the corruption, the madness of his country.  He is resolutely in love with Mexico - as if a lover loitered intently beside the rotting corpse of his friend and saw all the good that had been there and was being slowly turned, but stayed nonetheless.  If that seems too graphic then call Mexico a disintegrating society.  There is little difference.  Pits, as he is called, points to all that is sordid and mean and deadly on his love's face:  the executed with wrists bound, the decapitated by the roadside, the huge criminal enterprise that the government is, the rich lords of drugs and theft.  You read of his Mexico and wonder how it is that life goes on.  This is not a place where people blossom easily, or generous words and kind acts are softly come by.  There is one meaness borne of hunger, and another meaness borne of greed, and maybe they simply morph without losing a beat.  But if so, then why hasn't the meaness infected him?

I wanted to present one of Pits novels to the book group, but I felt so strongly that I could not just present it as another novel-of-merit to be read and commented on.  It was too pressing; I wanted to talk about the idea of 'failed states' and the necessary revenue Mexico gets from its huge oil field, Cantarell, and how that field is failing, and how dark the consequences will be.  I knew my tongue would curl up and die in that conversation.  The good ladies would look at me in confusion.

And I wanted to talk about our own consequences, our own coming Norte Americano darkness.  To ask if corrupt power here, too,  will metatisize 'til it enfolds us all in a daily grind of brutality.  I do fear that possibility.  I think perhaps Pits holds up a mirror to us and it is one window into our own future.  How can I possibly tell the nice ladies of the book group all this?  I could not say it without stumbling terribly.  The power of the idea would strip me of appropriate words before my tongue began to move.  So, I write it.  That helps.  A pressure inside of me is relieved some.  The tongue is sealed; the fingers move; this is much safer.  The ladies are spared.

Perhaps I will not suggest to the ladies of the book group that they read any Pits.  Anyway, Graham Green is pretty good.....

My editor does not like the first five paragraphs above.  She has looked at them and asked:  "The two-edged sword of speech....?  Who hasn't already talked about it ad infinitum?  Drop it.  It's been said.  Write something new."  She is such a didact!

She wants to know what those five paragraphs have in common with what follows: Pits, mayhem, anguish, the dark shadow in the future.  I mutter that if it isn't clear to her by what I have written then I can't help.  I can only say that 'that is exactly what I am talking about'. 

I was so excited by those paragraphs - an eager boy at heart, and I let her read them and then tried not to feel bad when she called them unnecessary.  This could indicate that I excite much too easily.  It does not, probably, indicate some lapse in her judgement.  But it makes me feel rebellious.  She is a duplicitous toad - there!  take that editor!!

When I even think to touch the keyboard she smells my fingers flexing like a boxer nose-down on a fresh can of Alpo.  She is at the offiice door coming like smoke down the hall - we call this room with the beeg t.v. for movies and the computer the office - ok, "I" call it the office, to kind of differentiate it from the rest of the house.  She will let me call it anything I want and washes her hands of it because it borders on undusted, unswept chaos.  But she is here often.  She likes the computer and the movies.  And she likes to arrive when I begin to type to casually ask 'whatcha doin'?'   Sometimes I say 'writin' stuff'' and I can hear her behind me grinding her eyeballs like Robert Ryan going insane wanting to kill someone with his bare hands.

I have pretty much convinced her not to read over my shoulder while I write, but if I don't offer the page up to her fairly soon I get dark looks.  So, I have acceded to her editorship, not from being pussywhipped, but solely because she is smarter than me, has better taste, and understands grammar in a way I don't quite.  Actually, I trust her - but I don't have to like her opinion.

If she says I have written something that the world simply didn't need, then I have to listen, even sort of agree, but it doesn't mean I can't add to it as a small act of defiance.  An editor isn't god; she is just an advisor, albeit the one who cooks and is intricately the other half of our physical love/affection-relation;  at our ages this is a less forceful arguement than it would have been a few years ago, but it still bears weight in the calculation,  in the heft of memory, in the everyday touch of a hand.  Hell, even in a good soup.

Now I have been reading Pits again.  Reading him makes me want to write.  The way looking at a Van Gogh would make you want to take a black crayon and draw crows that even the sun and the corn were afraid of.  My newest acquisition is a signed copy of one of his books.  Such a silly vanity.  But I like it.  I like that the mind that wrote the book also moved the very hand that wrote the book to sign the book I am holding.  Something circular happens.  Circles are inherently good.  It is hard to get lost in a circle and getting lost is more of  a problem than it used to be.  Not 'lost' lost, just little-lost, like between words sometimes.

Pits doesn't tell you anything.  He can be maddening that way.  He wouldn't tell you anything to save his mother from Turks.  Actually, he untells.  If you think you know something he has fairly soon disabused you of that thought and left you confused and more unknowing than you were before you began to read him.  I guess that is the joy of him.  He keeps leading you back into your own head.  His blind alleys are your own short circuits; he has tapped into the circuitry of the human brain and is busy blowing out the fuses.  Don't back away from him.  Pits is great fun.

I am finding in some of his works characters that are arguing with the writer, going on about what they are doing there, probably contemplating suicide to get out of the book.  That is a writer in all his glory for you.

It is days and days later and I still have not published this to the aether.  Sans my editor's sanction it is difficult.  I chafe at her restrictions but wobble when I step away.  (How necessary is her approval to my balance?  Ask how much the sun weighs or what hell may lie on the far side of the moon.)   She says I should write something new:  but no one ever writes anything new.  That is the way of it; I know that as axiom.  If I have done any sort of reasonable job in lobbing thoughts in your direction then your mind has become a pencil.  The point hovers above something I have said.  It drops to make a small mark and moves along to another point.  You connect dots that perhaps you alone have seen.  The result is a line that makes sense, or not -  A scar or mar on the page of your thinking.   The line says something, or you delete my ramblings.  From possibilities you might construct truths - don't blame me. Am I writing some absurd self-help epistle?  I hope to hell not.  I do know the dots are sometimes there, and sometimes connectable, and sometimes the pattern is altered enough to cause momentary interest.  What more could I hope for? 

I will let this one go and hope that it is more than just clutter.
The Ladies of the Book Group

(imprimatur withheld:  appeal ongoing.)
email me
This page was last updated: February 4, 2009