Friday, March 16, 2012

Glass Half Empty

Rare is the morning that I make it across Houston street and up to the 4th floor for PT - through the entry doors and down the hallway and through the big tiled square lobby feeding the elevators, sort of a people funnel as there is always a swirl of comings (and in the mornings it seems the people only come, not go, as the building inflates) - without being struck by the enormity of their pains. Little men bent over, the effort they need to push a foot forward. Grown daughters with worried faces, surely with lives of their own suspended, as they wheel mother along, or carry her purse as she tap tap taps the walker along. The obese the poor the ignorant. All the damaged broken people.

Is it depressing stuff? Should I be chastised for focusing on this and feeling troubled, often despondent? Do I imagine what I see? Are their lives so malleable, so responsive to the various hands they have been dealt, so adaptive and accepting, that I should celebrate their capacity to not only endure, but ... what?

Isn't there always a second side to the coin, an opposite position to be considered, maybe argued if one is feeling frisky, and doesn't this practice generally do no disservice to the Truth (if such exists)? Yet here I find myself without the counter argument I have come to take for granted - it seems that they only suffer, nothing else, there is no more, argue if you will, for naught. And of course there is more, there is always more, but the more is so small by comparison to the point of not being worthy of accounting, hence, not existing. Statistically insignificant.

If there is a silver lining, my physical pain and limitation diminishes by comparison. Whoopee for me, eh? I feel guilty even mentioning it as I am progressing, perhaps even restoring, and many (most?) I see are broken. Or breaking. Declining. Hanging on? Clinging to wisps of life? And I wonder about the series of concessions they made along the way as they felt the reduction of their capacities. I wonder about the limitations they bartered or just accepted and the pain of that train of thought makes me stop. And I wonder about the Creator and wonder if this is as he imagines life should be, wonder was he bargaining with them every step of the way, wonder is he like the shylock who would have his pound of flesh and now I am witnessing the payoff?

I don't know how else to feel about these things. I would prefer not. Bartleby surely had it right. I can not help seeing feeling the pain I walk through daily. Reminds me of a scene from Howard's End; Well the poor are the poor and one wishes it would be better for them, that something might be done but, well, ah, well there you have it. Surely I butchered that but I think the idea is generally got. Well there you have it and nothing can be done. Witness is all.

And so as happens sometimes I find the accompanying sadness. It is quite thick today. Maybe some good food is what I need. A treat for me! Add some exercise. A trolley ride? These are coping devices that I know well and none of which want to catch hold at present.  I find some days are endured only.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Infatuation

It was an arrogant thing to do, taking Tobias Wolff to physical therapy with me yesterday morning. The first 15 minutes I spend hooked up to the TENS Unit, an electro-stimulation device for the muscles around the shoulder, and there is the hooking up time and the disconnecting time - maybe 20 minutes total that one could read from a book, should they choose. Usually I chat with the therapist or play with my blackberry, sometimes talk with another patient, if he is not reading from his book.

That gets us to the arrogant part: he brings a Cussler or King or Baldacci, popular fiction. I could have penned in advance his response to me bringing a book: What you reading? Who? Haven't heard of him. What's it about? Hmm, okay. What? (Of course take Wolff into some quarters and Wolff = Cussler or King or Baldacci, by comparison. He a storyteller, old school, outdated, irrelevant to what is being written today. That is horse shit I would say, but I know it is there).

Okay, so shame on me. A small self-flagellation and move on.

The story I chose to read was "The Liar," based entirely on which one looked like I could easily read it in twenty minutes. What a great story, and I am not going to follow with an essay on its literary components (although I think one might make a career out of critiquing from different angles/perspectives). Read the story if sufficiently intrigued. No, it is Wolff who has re-got his fangs into me: the areas of mine own writing that I am sensitive to thoughts of inadequacy: tone, wordiness,  amount of detail, velocity (especially this), and there is more, let's not lay me out bare -- he absolutely nails all of it. Spot on. Perfect pace, velocity, tone, detail, description. Point a to point b in 100% correct path.,

We might now argue whether he is a great artist or merely a great craftsman - are they exclusive? I would say the former must include the latter and not vice versa, but that is a quick thought and not important to me at this juncture. What is important is that he can navigate a full story with nary a misstep. That makes this a perfect story in my eyes, a great story. But I would not rank it all-time great, as the limitations of character, setting, etc., limitations imposed by the story itself, minimize its loftiness. But again, he mines every drop of this story that is available and that awes me.

I had a similar feeling when first reading "The Night in Question." Less so about the overall perfection, more so the velocity and direction. It is very good, but I think it might be improved. Maybe not, who is to say. "Venus de Milo," a beautiful little story I came across in a small lit mag ten years ago, is similar in this regard. Almost perfect in and of itself. Perhaps a couple of word choices might have improved it, I thought at the time.  Arrogant thoughts on my part. But can writers help reading that way (I like to think I only think that way after digesting the story)?

Aside: Ricardo Semler, in Maverick, asks the question (paraphrase): What are the obligations of a Corporation? He decides survive and thrive are necessary, but whether to grow larger or not was more sticky and subject to much debate. Ultimately he decided it depends, and decided to keep his company its current size and not grow, fearing the cultural changes that growth would likely bring.

What obligations do writers have, if any? What is inherent, what negotiable? For me I feel I must always be open for improvement, on the lookout for what I might learn. The obligation to the story, the characters, the reader, is enormous. And to answer an earlier question: perhaps it is the artist who finds the story but it is the craftsman who tells it? Then craft is always at issue, no?

So for a while I'll be carrying around Wolff, probably to the point of depression. And I'll get cracking on that Stegner application. Who wouldn't benefit from a couple of years around a guy like that? (Would that count as the balance of my Ashes? More likely that would constitute time in the Garden, under the leaves touched by moist soil. Must get another copy of Iron John. His edicts fade.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

new old desk

It is delivered and placed. Cleansed. It looks old but functional. Neatly aligned with the garish sofa and chair. Close to the newly relocated bookcase. Time now to hang pictures. More lamps needed, as had been suggested to me. Maybe add something living?

Next: a computer and printer.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New desk old desks

In the last week I have viewed hundreds of desks, mostly online, many in person. Today I chose one and it ships to me tomorrow afternoon. I also picked a sofa and love seat for the writer's corner for when layabouts are about the crib. Garish flowery stuff marked way down. The type of furniture that says when the booze is gone, you be gone too. Also a writing desk for Brooke when she visits this summer, for the guest room.

The first writing desk was a schoolteacher type affair that I got at Goodwill for 25.00. Loved that desk. Wrote my first short story on it (Mr. Kindresol). Woke up at 3:00 one morning and sat down and cranked it own long hand. I was hooked after that.

The next was a computer desk that coincided with my 1st computer (which cost 1600.00 Ouch!). Office Max or Depot, forget which. I think 165.00 sounds about right. Most memorable is it, combined with my then queen sized bed, missed fitting in my room by about 4 inches. Out went the bed and I slept on the floor on a mattress. Had to have that desk.

Adams Street and the little writing cove needed its own desk which I got from The Empire for free. A very fine solid wood square type traditional model. It fit so perfectly there that I couldn't bear to bring it to the next location when Adams Street got sold from under me. It found a home on Craig Street holding liquor bottles for the oft inebriated tenant. I hope he found it a nice home after he moved East.

Next was the metallic contraption that caught my fancy. Another computer desk, but this one sometimes shocked me when I touched it. Played a lot of poker on this one. Installation was a hoot -- my co-pilot came over drunk and got much drunker, occasionally shining a light on the instructions while I assembled the damned thing. Mistake on that one all around.

Last desk was regal. A Stone Oak sort of desk. Hand carved. Brass handles. Expensive. It is now in my office, used for matters of Empire and also to pay bills, etc. A lovely desk that I am quite fond of. But not right for what is in front of me now. That needed its own desk. At least in my peculiar world it does.

Today's purchase is used.  Bought at 1/2 price. SALE: 1/2 OFF you get the idea. Presentable but has seen better days. Has a nice functional shape to it. Some drawers to fidget with when thinking. To put manuscripts in. Pencils and pens and the like. Reminders and scraps. Has the attachment on it that makes it L-shaped. More space but also kind of sections off this corner of the room so company doesn't get the idea that anyone can sit down at this desk. That's about it. Surely I'll have more to say when it's up and running. Stay tuned.

Glass Half Full

Yesterday I had the thought that these last six months have been as Robert Bly suggests, or at least as I say he says, a time among the ashes: a regeneration, a necessary time for any man. A time to lay low and hurt and heal. A time to redefine who and what are important. Iron John tells us this and more.

I doubt yesterday's thought was actually yesterday's thought. It might have loosened out  a day or so earlier and just got retrieved yesterday. Or it's been kicking around much longer and I've been preoccupied. Latter more likely? No matter. Know that Bly says the ashes require two years and I am unsure how to account for the missing 18 months. It seems that I have been in ash many times - do I keep a running tally? Or do I owe 18 months more? Do I get a factor/multiplier for the degree of ash this last 6 months has brought, to where 1/2 year can equal 2 years?

I am feeling ready to emerge, perhaps a social creature now. Hopeful of movement. Ready to choose travel companions. Ready to choose new poisons. Ready to argue old arguments with a freshened perspective. Less tolerant of excuse, mine and others.

So I say. Let's see what's next.