Saturday, January 31, 2015

another character with a life more interesting than mine own surfaces

Often I feel more geometer than writer. "Often," in this instance, means when I'm frustrated with process. With result. When I'm tired of exploring him, and instead would explore her. Or vice versa. But something prevents me. I feel a need to move along. Some instinct pushes for only length. Ignore depth. Get a snapshot of a duration. Two dimensional will do fine here. Character for illustrative purposes only. Make haste along the x-axis.

Other times I would dawdle in one spot, on one set of coordinates, indefinitely. I would latch onto this point, burrow to the very center, then expand, making the competing axes shake to accommodate this new scale of Universe. Shake it into four dimensions if need be. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, however many the stringers say there need be. I would have them all. Look! Damn it, look around. I could survive forever on what I find here. This miniature infinity.

Of course, the reader has long since yawned away. Or, at least, that is the fear.

Choosing a narrative path is pure terror. Writing this means not writing that. Or at least not writing it in that order. Not writing it then. And sometimes then is the most important thing. As the Poet has said, "But you already know this." Yes. This is no original lament.

But some days everywhere I look the world is on fire. Burning like a secret. And I so fear getting it wrong.


Friday, January 30, 2015

who the (expletive) am I kidding

A rhetorical question, I suppose. The answer is well known. I am, after all, a repeat offender. Which reminds me of a story. A story about my cousin Patsy, who was born into life on a poultry farm with four older brothers, and a stubborn as hell old man who served bacon and eggs every morning for breakfast. Patsy didn't like eggs. I don't know if she once liked, or didn't mind, eggs, and over time grew to dislike them, or, if she disliked them from jump street. But, either way, Patsy's dislike of eggs was sufficiently large to be classified as hate. And so some mornings she wouldn't eat her eggs. She'd eat the bacon and toast, drink her orange juice, and then ask to be excused. "Finish your eggs," my uncle would say. "I'm finished," Patsy would say. Then he would give her a sharp look and she would pick up her plate and take it into the kitchen, put it into the refrigerator.

Confession: I witnessed more than one of these breakfast "sessions." I too giggled with my brothers and my male cousins. I doubt that I actually thought it funny, but there was so much I didn't understand at my uncle's farm that I suppose I was relieved to find an easy enough way to fit in with the other males - just laugh at the girl along with everybody else.

At lunchtime my uncle would serve Patsy the eggs remaining from the morning. He wouldn't heat them, or doctor them in any way. The same plate would be set at her place at the table. A cruel anticipation would build amongst the rest of us - would she, or would she not, eat the eggs? Her face offered no clue - her face freely displaying the distress she felt. She looked continuously on the verge of tears. I thought: a word, a look, and she might spill.

And some times she did spill. Loud enormous fully expressed girl tears. She might also scream. Or pound a fist on the table. But never two fists. She knew to always keep a hand on the plate during the storm - a special hell to pay should the eggs hit the floor. After she'd fled the table, she'd be summoned back to retrieve the eggs and take them to the refrigerator for dinner.

Thinking about cousin Patsy recently, about her plight, it occurred to me that certain fates can not be escaped. Get born on an egg farm and you're going to eat eggs. Or maybe it's just that sometimes the cure is more destructive than the condition.

My attempts to finish John have in many ways mimicked the eating ritual of my poor cousin Patsy. I have gladly eaten the toast (with lots of jelly) and bacon. Drunk several glasses of orange juice. Cup after cup of coffee. And then pushed away from the table (desk) expecting - what?

Did Patsy ever sit down to the table expecting anything other than the uneaten eggs? Did she think they'd magically go away, replaced by her favorite sandwich meat or a lovely cobb salad? Did she really believe her father, my uncle, would ever relent from his particular form of justice?

It's much easier to ask those questions of cousin Patsy than myself. What did I expect when pushing away from John? Did I expect that I'd return to the metaphoric table to find a delicious meal consisting of everything I like and none of what I hate? None of what frightens me, intimidates me?

Aside: I recently read a thoughtful piece on Writing, the author making the argument that Writing need be Fun. I thought: if you're having Fun Writing, I'm likely not having Fun Reading. But my opinion is likely Minority. I also once told Writer Friend, as Criticism: you're just not smart enough to engage or entertain me with only your Brain - I need Heart.

(No, I'm not re-inventing myself as a Hunter S Thompson wannabe. A sudden Urge, that has mostly Passed.)

Like Jesus on the cross, taking all of our sins, Patsy's memory lives to inform me. John will ALWAYS be there. Your father is the same as my father. Long on memory. Insistent and inflexible. You need not like it, she tells me. Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional, she reminds me.

So. I can't be rid of John just yet. I have re-learned this fact. I am always pleased when I feel I've learned something important, even if it's a re-learning. Admittedly, there's some ambivalence then - shame does bleed through. But after I have dealt with the shame, the after-hue, the basking, often reveals what I call bonus truth. Bonus truth is like a silver lining, an epiphany, a realization, a blessing. Call it what you will. A little jolt of understanding. Connection with Correct?

Maybe bonus truth is like a gratuity from Above. Hey kid, good job on working through that re-re-re-realization (Fucker keeps impeccable score) and so here's a little something extra, for your trouble. Who ever turns down a gratuity?

My bonus truth: the poet Mudd was needed to introduce John. Not exactly, but in a "linking" sort of way. In a John way. And, if I've done my work properly, "in a Mudd way."

I wish I could describe the delight I experienced when the poet Mudd ambled his way into the Foreword. His bemused indifference, his famed obstinacy, his intellectual acrobatics, all combined to  offer counter-balance to an eager, mirthful, and uncertain author. Maybe the last is clue to the necessity of the poet Mudd - I never feel quite as certain as when conversing with Mudd. I am always Right, and he is always ... drinking? Maybe Fun will be found here now.

Soon enough I'll have a few words from the poet Mudd. And more on John.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

after John

There was a girl. Of course there were before girls and after girls, but mostly there was a girl and then there wasn't a girl. At least that's how I demarcate, where I draw the lines. Where I drew the lines. And when I'm weak, feeling sorry, I'll say where life drew the lines.

The girl and I spent six months intensely entwined. Then no more. Then I was packed and driving, stopping in Texas only because, Why not? Distance the only prerequisite. I'd spotted her six years before she became the girl - yes, I knew, who doesn't know - but we'd only had the one night: music and drink, moonlight and pier, a borrowed blanket; water ripples I occasionally hear. We also had an unhappy after: letters and phone calls, her on a plane. Her back on the plane, two days early. Tears. Fucking sobbing. Locked doors now where before windows.

This morning I was thinking about the girl over coffee. Over writing. She's there, often, for a bit. Then I get down to business. Some days, anyways. This morning I realized John* and I had also spent six months entwined. Every morning waking to John. Talking to John. Coffee with John at my square solid wooden desk (the same desk Alan Mudd turned into a table to stack his liquor bottles on) and then hours at the computer - where today? anywhere is good, John, anywhere - and then late morning walks and trolley rides and some days coffee at Espuma with the poet: How's John, he'd ask, the poet knowing as is John as is me.

I failed at John as I failed at the girl. It should be admitted, it is true. He remains, like her, as placeholder now. When I am desperate for a certain feeling I will break him out, like I do with the girl. I told her once, the last time I visited her, when I write of love I write of you. What I didn't tell her is that I rarely write of love. And when I do, I flail at it, fail at it. Feeling like I don't know a damn thing about it. So I write of loss, that's what I understand. Of course, that too is of her. But now it is also of John.

Now, some good news: after the girl, after the reconciliation attempts and after trying many  approximate girls, eventually, came a second girl. The second girl got me to unlock some of those doors. And now, after several John reconciliations and approximations, comes after John. It's become time to tell someone else's story. Time to entwine again. I have a shape of things and an insistence. That's about it for now. But the insistence is strong. Which is why it's insistence. And I like the shape. I know the shape. Or it knows me. For now let's call it some combination of these four words: low city high rise.

* John is reference to John Duff, a fictional character from an unfinished novel.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


His knock has alway sounded more like a scratch. And my apartment is configured such that rarely am I within earshot of the door. So I expect there have been many more times I didn't hear him at my door than I did. But this is only conjecture. He hasn't said, nor have I inquired. I think his expectation of others is such that surely he is surprised each time my door opens and I show my face behind the chain.

He doesn't talk much. I think he either doesn't like the act of speaking, of forming words. or the mental activity of gathering them. Maybe the process is too taxing to be worth the trouble. And when finally he does speak, it comes in a sort of rushed whisper. Leaving a large portion of his words lost in the space around us.

He'll come most often to borrow perishables: a couple of eggs for breakfast or afternoon baking; cream for his morning coffee, or milk for his evening tea; a stick of butter for pie or Hollandaise; a couple of mushrooms for an omelette; a missing herb or two for the bouquet garni. Now and then a staple will run out and on these occasions he'll bring his measuring cup or utensil to take exactly what he needs: 1/2 c of sugar, 2 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp allspice, etc.. These times we don't speak at all -- a shared embarrassment. When I see him at the door with cups and spoons in hands I simply open the door and let him at the kitchen. He knows the pantry well enough. After he's left I'll find a dollar or two or a couple of quarters on the counter.  

The borrowed perishables he'll return, and with a hefty interest. Three eggs will return a dozen. Four ounces of milk yields a gallon. And the quality is always first rate. Free range and organic and local, whenever possible. Occasionally he'll add a surprise: a piece of fresh white fish, filleted and iced; a couple of center cut pork chops; half a goddamn prime rib roast. He is a generous and thoroughly particular shopper. He just hates to go out, is my theory. Hates it more than talking.

One night last week I dreamt that we were cooking together. In my kitchen, it seemed. The equipment and arrangement felt familiar enough but the lighting was too bright. Much too bright actually, like an interrogation room. He was working on the consomme, which might have been for aspic, but more than likely not. I prefer hot soup and I was in charge of the meal. He seemed fidgety, uncertain, hesitant, not unlike the stickman, but, of course, now from up close. It was getting under my skin. Then I noticed that he was sweating, heavily, but the kitchen wasn't hot. I remembered the lighting and thought, Well, maybe I've a hand in his sweating, but before I could give much thought to the lighting problem and his sweating, I could feel the perspiration from his face and scalp somehow running down my arms and onto my fingers, causing the french knife I was chopping vegetables with to slip and slice across my knuckles. The red quickly flowed, but then just as quickly coagulated, and this mass grew and grew like an inflating balloon, like a pulsing red deformity. Meanwhile he's pulling the consomme from the stove, carrying it to the sink to strain. It was obviously too soon to pull the pot. Christ almighty, the raft hadn't risen yet.

"Goddamn it, no! Put that pot back on the stove and leave it be."

He didn't say a word, or look at me. He did return the pot to the stove. I could feel the anger in me welling, at a rate, in retrospect, similar to the growth on my hand. I was inflating.

"Go set the table or something," I said, without looking up from the cutting board. A nasty kitchen insult. The sort of thing the chef only says to a cook once he's decided to sack the fool at day's end. Even then, it's considered a really mean thing to say. But it felt good to say, and immediately the wound began to dissipate. As did my anger. Although the anger was replaced by a feeling of wrong, a heavy and full wrong. The type of wrong I suppose one feels after killing someone. Unequivocal. The type of wrong that when it comes in a dream it reaches deep and shakes so much that it wakes you up. Perspiring and with heart beating rapidly. Needing air to steady. Jesus Christ, almost gasping. Feeling emotional. Feeling unsettled and exposed. Feeling vulnerable to the point of fright. To the edge of panic. Breathe breathe breathe, it was only a dream.

I have thought since waking from that dream that my neighbor won't come again. A feeling that I've cosmically driven him away. Warned him as to how toxic I'm capable of being. Shown him what a mean fucker I really am. And I wonder why I couldn't have dreamt about all of the time I've spent writing out my shopping lists, carefully listing all the foods and brands the neighbor uses, sometimes stopping at three grocery stores while out. Silly me. Of course that isn't dream material. Nor is a man sitting in a back room, sometimes reading sometimes dozing, but always these days surrounded by the cheap faint static from a baby monitor -- the thin pale breathing, this man calls it -- waiting for the device to report scratching at the front door. Praying to hear the beggar's familiar scratching.